Today, in the Western Christian Church, is the feast of Candlemas, or the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple, or the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, depending on which name you want to give it – this day has a lot packed into it, theologically speaking.
(It’s also Groundhog Day, but I’ll leave that to other people to discuss!)
According to the Gospel of Luke, on this day, forty days after his birth, Jesus was taken to the Temple in Jerusalem to be presented to the Lord, according to Jewish custom. When his parents brought him in, they were met by an old man named Simeon. Simeon had been promised by God that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah – the Saviour. When he saw the infant Jesus he spoke the words which have become one of the most famous canticles in the Christian tradition: “Lord, now let your servant go in peace, as you promised, for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared before the face of all people to be a light to lighten the nations …”
Because of the association with light, one of the customs on this day is for churches to bless the candles that they will use throughout the year – which is how this feast got its popular name, Candlemas. It is celebrated with a special liturgy, and a procession. It is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful services in the church year.
In honour of Candlemas, I present a picture I took at a friend’s dinner party. At this time of the year, when night comes early and morning comes late, it is good to remember that even a single candle can keep the darkness at bay.