In February we celebrate Candlemas, remembering the Holy Family’s presentation of Christ at the temple (Luke 2:22-40) where Simeon and Anna rejoiced, praising God for his arrival in the world.
This was a time of new beginnings, and the ritual at the temple recognises new life; redemption made possible in the birth of Jesus. Our own celebrations show Jesus as the Light of the World with candles often blessed around the global Anglican Communion for use in the coming year.
How might we respond to this celebration? We could perhaps take the opportunity of a new start in renewing our commitment to spend time with God in prayer. Or we could spend time with God in the presence of new people, inviting someone we don’t know very well for tea, or a walk.
In Tolstoy’s novel Resurrection the central character Nekhlyudov spends 500 pages trying to atone for a sin he committed many years previously. It is touching to read his efforts, if sometimes misguided and naïve, to do the right thing. He discovers however as he peels back the layers of society’s wretched conditions that the world can be a frightening place of corruption, inequality, and extreme poverty. He feels hopeless at the scale of it all.
I would prescribe for Nekhlyudov the approach of St. Valentine, the namesake of that other major feast in the February calendar. Valentine lived at a dark time, when Christians were persecuted terribly under the Roman Empire. The conditions were too much for Valentine to overcome, but as a minister of Christ’s Word and Sacraments he went about doing what he could to combat evil wherever he was. Valentine ministered to the persecuted in a way that was unglamorous and gained him no Facebook ‘likes’ whatsoever. But his steadfast faith in God against all odds brought salvation to many.
Life’s path is often a winding one, and even in their time of rejoicing at the temple Mary was warned “a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:35). As we have entered this new beginning of life in Christ, so we are able to bring that light into the lives of other people. Both Mary and Valentine knew that we cannot lift up ourselves or those around us in our own strength, but only with wholehearted trust in the love of God in Christ Jesus.
So let us enjoy this time of renewal, commit afresh to welcoming new people to Church, strive to protect the vulnerable, and minister with love to one another in the light we have each received from God in Christ; a light which shines in the darkness, and shall never be overcome.
Rev’d. Oliver Blease
Incidentally, Candlemas in France is celebrated as a ‘day of crêpes’, their round shape and golden colour reminiscent of the solar disc, anticipating the return of Spring following a dark winter – a culinary tradition I wholeheartedly endorse!