Candlemas: a midway point

by the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy


The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy

The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy

Candlemas is a wonderful festival, dating back as far as the fifth century. It was a feast for blessing the candles of church, as well as commemorating the encounter of Joseph, Mary and Jesus with Simeon and Anna. It is the last childhood ‘snapshot’ we have of Jesus. The next time we meet him in the gospels, he is in the Temple once more – but as an adolescent, confounding teachers and scribes. We won’t see him again in the Temple until adulthood.
Candlemas is a ‘pivotal feast’ – one last look over the shoulder at Christmas before the serious season of Lent. On 2 February, Christmas is officially over. In our house the crib sets are put away for another year; the baby Jesus is wrapped up and stored away; the Wise Men and their exotic beasts of burden put into hibernation; the shepherds placed in boxes, and tucked away.

According to Luke’s gospel, Jesus is brought to the temple to be consecrated, as a first born male as custom demands. But as with all consecrations, the blessings are shared out. Simeon and Anna are blessed as much as those they came to bless. And strangely, it is here, in the temple, that Jesus begins his ministry. For here he is truly recognised as a light for both Israel and the world. The road to Calvary begins here: it prophesies ‘the falling and rising of many…and a sword shall pierce your own heart’. That’s why Candlemas matters. It is a midway point: past Christmas, it tilts us towards Lent, Holy Week – and eventually, Easter.
As an adult, Jesus spent little time in religious buildings. Like many children, he was taken there by his parents, with little choice in the matter. But when he was old enough to make up his own mind, he hardly ever went. Yet Jesus never turned his back on religion; he simply turned his face to the world.

The gospels assure us that the light shines in the darkness of this world – and for everyone. This light is not hidden under a bushel. It is set on a hill – even the hill of Calvary. God can never be entirely contained by our walls – whether physical, tribal or religious. At Candlemas, Simeon and Anna find the light of God inside the Temple. But many more will later discover the light of Jesus in his ministry outside that Temple – in the meadows, towns and villages of Galilee; and in the streets and houses of Jerusalem. The light shines in the darkness – for all to see.

The Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy is the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford.

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