The earth is cold and hard. But if you look carefully in a park or a garden you may see a tiny little white flower named after today’s feast of the church. Snowdrops are also called Candlemas bells. They come out exactly at the time of Candlemas, also known as the Presentation of Christ in the Temple that we celebrate today. We remember how Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus into the temple to fulfil the traditions of the old law, for Mary’s purification after the dangers of childbirth and to mark the fact that their first born son belonged to God. There’s a very pure beauty about snowdrops; they are the first flowers to appear when we are still in the depths of winter. When they appear against the dead tones of winter mud they are a sign that the warm days will come again. They are like little drops of hope.
Candlemas, which always falls on 2nd February marks the midpoint of winter, halfway between the shortest day and the spring equinox. For country people, this turning point in the year, meant the lactating of sheep, ready for the new born lambs, and in some parts of Britain, it would be the first day of ploughing. The 2nd February is supposed to be an indication of what the weather is going to be like. The rhyme goes like this:
If Candlemas be fair and bright Come winter have another flight If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go winter and come not again.
So we’ll see whether those old traditions are any good over the next few weeks after we evaluate today’s weather.
As far back as 500 years after the birth of Christ, Christians began to celebrate Candlemas, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. They would light candles, essential in the days before electricity, and bless the ones they would use for the year ahead.
Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple, and as they did so, they had an extraordinary meeting with two elderly people, at the end of their lives. Simeon and Anna hoped this day would come, they had waited faithfully for the Messiah. One day, the light of the world would come into the Temple and they were praying, waiting, hoping.
Waiting is tiring; they were probably tired of Roman occupation, tired of the failure of religious and political leaders. So, they were waiting for death, but hoping against hope that God would send his light into the darkness.
And we wait too, weary of the darkness of winter, the chaos and strangeness of the world around us, a world of fear, pandemic, double talk and the threat of war. So much needs to change, as Simeon and Anna knew, but also, so much needs to be fulfilled, restored. We need the recovery of lost blessing. They could easily have despaired. What could two old people do about the terrible things they saw happening around them? But they did what they could, they were faithful in their context. And they believed the Lord. They were watchmen.
So, when this ordinary young couple, Mary and Joseph came into the temple, they knew. The Light of the World had arrived. It’s a beautiful scene, drawing together many opposites. The very old and the very young, a family and those who live alone, those whose life is centred in the home, those whose world revolves around the temple. This is how God’s revelation comes, and shows us how much we need our older members of our community just as much as our younger ones. We need to talk to each other outside our age groups. Listen to our older members: they have been faithful in their context just as Simeon and Anna were. They have been watchmen. They can see with experienced eyes. There’s a great power in having hung on faithfully, just as there is a great power in having fresh eyes. For Simeon and Anna, healing came in the fulfilment of a promise and a sense that they could die in peace.
When you light a candle in church or at home today, remember that the light of Christ can never be put out however dark this world is. Like Anna and Simeon, shine as a light in the world. Be faithful in your context. And be watchmen. For one day the light will return. Amen.