EVERY year, I find myself tuning into the debate on the radio about when we can take down our Christmas decorations. The official answer is January 6. It is the Feast of the Epiphany, when the three kings came to Jesus and is also the ‘12th day of Christmas’.
But there is another date worth remembering, if you’re a big fan of the twinkly lights and mistletoe – February 2, or Candlemas. You might have heard of snowdrops being called ‘Candlemas bells’?
This is the moment when the darkest days of winter shine with tiny flowers of hope.
This is the old end of Christmas as it was celebrated in churches – the feast of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The tiny infant has coped with grotty stables, murderous usurpers (that’s King Herod) and a frantic dash to Egypt for safety.
Now, his mother and her husband Joseph bring the baby Jesus to the Temple, to give thanks to God. Every year, thousands of parents do the same thing as they bring their babies to church for baptism or christening (same thing, different words).
It’s the chance to forget about the broken nights and the nappies for a moment, to bring the family together and to lift this precious gift up to the light of God and ask for grace and blessings. How remarkable that Mary and Joseph did the same thing with their baby.
But what Christians remember about this presentation of Christ in the Temple, is not the ceremony or the party afterwards but a little old man and a little old woman.
Simeon and Anna. Old age and infancy side by side. Taking a tiny child into their arms – the circle of life. Simeon has been promised by the Holy Spirit that he will not die until he sees the Messiah.
Too often we write off people who are old as no longer useful to society. But here, in the Bible, we see that old age is a time of wisdom and spiritual gifts. Simeon and Anna are waiting on God.
A lifetime of experience has shown them they can trust God in the good times and the bad. They are the ones to listen to when things are going badly. They have the long view. They can put it all into perspective for us and they are the ones who promise that we will eventually see the light in the darkness.
When Simeon recognises the infant Jesus as the ‘one’, he gathers the baby into his arms and sighs: ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all people. To be a light, to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.’
Famous words, sung daily in every Oxford College as the Nunc Dimittis. A prayer said at the end of every funeral. Light in the darkness. Hope and joy for a new beginning.