As you read this we will be in the season of Candlemas, occurring at the mid-point of winter and in pre-Christian times seen to herald the coming of spring: a festival of light. In Christianity it commemorates the ritual purification of Mary 40 days after Jesus’ birth, when Joseph and Mary brought the infant Jesus to be presented to God at the Temple in Jerusalem, in obedience to Jewish law.
Candlemas is rooted in a winter festival of birth and light but importantly it is also a celebration of living and ageing in undiminished faith. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Jesus was recognised as the promised Messiah by both Simeon and Anna, devout Jews who trusted in God’s promises. Simeon acknowledged Jesus as ‘a Light to the whole World’.
Simeon and Anna were old people at the end of their lives, witnessing the dedication of Jesus at the beginning of His earthly life. They had been waiting in faithful expectation of God’s promise of a Messiah being fulfilled, dedicating themselves to worship, service and prayer. Their faith enabled them to recognise that God’s promises were realised in Jesus and confidently to praise God for His love and unfailing covenant with His people.
So here we are, at the beginning of a new year, in the midst of a winter when our future can feel very frightening and dark. The old political and social certainties are under enormous challenge and the alternatives on offer can feel terrifying. Candlemas reminds us of the importance of holding fast to our faith, in confidence that God is who He says He is and is to be trusted. He loves us and promises our good but in order to be open to His truth, we have to allow ourselves also to be open to the possibility of surprise and discomfort by what He asks of us. When we cannot rely on things around us being predictable, do we dare to trust Him and believe that His message is true for us today? Can we dare to be obedient to what Jesus teaches us? To let His love change our behaviour and challenge our prejudices, particularly at a time when we are feeling insecure and confused?
Jewish law taught that Mary and Joseph, needed to make an animal sacrifice to God as an atonement for sin. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus shows us the full extent of God’s love and care for us and that Christ’s sacrifice of Himself for our sin means that all we need to do, all God wants us to do, is to accept His love.
Simeon and Anna were old people at the end of their lives but they recognised and celebrated Jesus’ life with joy. They praised God and looked to the future with hope because they recognised that in Jesus God had fulfilled His promises to us all.
The challenge for each of us, both in this season of Candlemas and throughout the year is, like Simeon and Anna, to have faith in God’s promise that He has a good plan for this world and our future. As the song of Simeon tells us: ‘These eyes of mine have seen the Saviour, whom You have prepared for all the world to see: a light to enlighten the nations.’ May we too look forward in hope and expectation.
Authorised Lay Minister