[Our Editorial this month has been written by Rev John Barrett. Many thanks for doing this and for all the services you have conducted (so far) during the interregnum]
Today many people may not be aware that on February 2, we celebrate an ancient feast, common to the Church of both East and West, which used to have a great significance in the rural calendar. In fact I was hunting around the Internet for information about Candlemas yesterday and I was surprised that there was more information put on by witches than there was by Christian groups. Lots of witches celebrating a time of the year which naturally forms a transition period in winter - there is a sense in which, thank God, we are moving into brighter and better days.
As Candlemas traditions evolved, many people embraced the legend that if the sun shone on the second day of February, an animal would see its shadow and there would be at least six more weeks of winter. Bears or badgers are watched in some European countries, but the German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania found an abundance of groundhogs and late in the 19th century a few residents in Punxsutawney began celebrating the groundhog as weather prophet.
There is an ancient rhyme which describes it well:
If Candlemas day be fair and bright,
Winter will have another flight.
If Candlemas day be shower and rain,
Winter is gone and will not come again.
But this time of year should not be a pagan festival, it is a Christian feast, which we celebrate, and it can be traced to at least 543. The Feast of Lighted candles is mentioned by Bede and St. Eligius, who was bishop of Noyon from 640 to 648. The feast quickly became popular. The day is set aside to commemorate the presentation of Jesus in the Temple at Jerusalem. Jesus has been circumcised, marking him as a member of God's chosen people, through whom world salvation was to be achieved.
The aged Simeon was in the Temple and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him in his arms and blessed God and in words, which we know as the Nunc Dimittis, said:
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.
Simeon calls Jesus "a light to lighten the Gentiles". Accordingly this day was made into a feast of candles. The warm candlelight is a tangible reminder of that greater light which, for and beyond all time, radiates from the figure of Jesus.
Imagine a world before electric lights, when candles were the only source of illumination after dark. Rarely do we experience such darkness. Yet deep within us there is some sort of warm yearning for and joy in candlelight dinners. Not least candles at Christmas Services, the busiest church service of the year.
Why do we light the candles?
Because it is a dark world.
Because we want and need light.
"Better to light one candle than to curse the darkness,"
We take a light, but it is not our own light, no light of our own would be bright enough, rather it is the light of Christ. As the prologue to John’s Gospel states:
“The light shines on in the dark; and the darkness has never quenched it.”
“The true light which enlightens everyman has come into the world”
This light is the light to lighten the gentiles, the nations, all the nations and races and culture of people.
O thou great Chief
light a candle in my heart
that I may see what is therein
and sweep the rubbish from thy dwelling place.
African school girl’s prayer
(Précis of Candlemas Sermon by Rev Charles Royden)