Magazine Leader - February 2014

From the Vicar

As I write, the three Magi are still to be found in our crib at St John’s and indeed they will remain there until the Epiphany season draws to a close at Candlemas. Candlemas is the popular name we give to a particular Christian feast day, which is The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The date for this day is the 2nd February, although this is often kept on the nearest Sunday to that date. In fact Candlemas actually falls on a Sunday this year. The feast has also been called the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which gives a different perspective to the day. There are Jewish roots to this festival, for it stems from the requirements in Leviticus (chapter 12) which says that, after childbirth, a woman needs to go to the Temple after forty days to be purified, but also that her (male) child should be presented at the Temple. This is what would have happened with Mary and Jesus. If the idea of women needing to be purified after childbirth seem strange to us today, there are still people around who remember the ‘churching of women’ which was a fact of life in our own society within living memory. There is an order of service for this rite in our old Book of Common Prayer, but it comes as no surprise that the rite was not modernised or revised for inclusion in our new service books.

The celebration of this day is no longer focused on Mary, at least not in the Western Church. The focus is on Jesus and on the reaction of old Simeon, a devout and just man of Jerusalem, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah. He recognises Jesus as he is brought in and he says: Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people: To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel. I use the words from the old prayer book here, for these words of Simeon, known to us as the Nunc Dimittis, are familiar to us in our worship. The Nunc Dimittis is the Gospel Canticle from Compline (or Night Prayer) and in the Book of Common Prayer it was included in the service of Evensong, as the second canticle after the Magnificat. It is also frequently used at funerals, for it expresses the assurance that we can not let go of this earthly life, because we have already seen the light of God’s presence in Christ and caught a glimpse of the glory that is to come. The reference to light has given this day a focus on candles. In times past, beeswax candles (then a valuable commodity) would be blessed and distributed, which is what gives the day its name – Candlemas. These days we are not so dependent on candles to give us light, but the day retains its popular name.

There is a two-fold message for us in this feast day. Firstly, it points to the very core of the Christian faith, which is that we place ourselves in the sandals of Simeon, the man who waited and watched in the belief that God would act and, in Jesus, he catches a glimpse of the glory of God, the light which would light up the whole world. Not only should we define ourselves as people who have ourselves seen that light, in the person of Jesus, but we should also seek to live our lives in such a way that we become that light for others. The second part of the message is to be found in Mary, who looks on and wonders at the words Simeon uses of her child, but then receives the chilling prophecy that a sword will pierce her soul. Jesus will reveal the light of the Divine to the world, but at appalling cost. Living for God is both a response to his light, revealed in Jesus, but it is also a matter of taking up our cross and following him. Candlemas is a hinge moment in the Christian year, looking back one more time at the glory of the Epiphany season, but then turning our thoughts to another Lent and the Cross.

Nigel LLoyd 

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