Today on the church calendar is “The Presentation of Our Lord,” (also known as Candlemas, The Feast of the Purification of the Virgin and my daughter Heather’s Birthday). This is the last day on the church calendar that is measured from Christmas Day. Mary and Joseph, in accordance with the Law of Moses would have come to the temple forty days after the birth of Jesus for two reasons. First, they would have come to offer a sacrifice for the ritual purification of Mary following childbirth. Second, as Jesus was the first born male the parents had to present him for Pidyon HaBen, which would redeem the child from priestly obligations (rather ironic as Jesus is our Great High Priest).
Upon entering the temple they were greeted by Simeon, who had been promised by God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Led by the Holy Spirit, Simeon took the child in his arms and said, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-31 NIV) A prophetess named Anna was also there and although her words are lost to history she told those who would listen about the child and the redemption of Israel.
This day is often called Candlemas as in evening worship services (vespers or compline) there is often a candlelight procession into churches as the words of Simeon’s prayer (Nunc Dimittis) are sung. The service celebrates Jesus as the light of the world (“A light for revelation to the Gentiles”). In some churches this is a very dramatic representation. The building is in total darkness save for the candles carried by the worshipers. Most of us will not attend a Candlemas service tonight, but it is not hard to imagine the powerful image of the lighted candles rolling back the darkness.
Like candles that carry the light of Christ, we move out into a darkened world every day of our lives. Do we roll back the darkness before us with the light of Christ within us? As children many of us sang, “This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” But as we have gotten older we have opted more and more to “put it under a bushel.” Sometimes the simple songs are the deepest and most profound. Sing it again. Tonight, when the hustle and bustle of your day is past, sit in a darkened place and light a candle. As you watch the flame push the darkness aside, pray that God would rekindle the fire of his presence within your heart. Pray that you might carry that light with you tomorrow to work or school. Pray that everyday might be Candlemas in your heart. Amen!
As an aside, there are some who still follow the old folklore of using Candlemas to predict the weather for the remainder of winter. According to the tradition, the weather for the rest of winter will be the opposite of what it is on Candlemas. There is an old English song:
“If Candlemas be fair and bright
Come winter, have another flight;
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.”
And they do this without the assistance of a Groundhog.