Each year on 2nd February Candlemas is celebrated. As Candlemas occurs at a time between the December Solstice and the March Equinox many people, both in the past and today, regard it as winter’s “halfway point” while waiting for and looking forward to the Spring.
However, for a Christian it celebrates three significant occasions in Jesus’ early life. We are reminded in Luke 4 from verse 22 onwards of Mary and Joseph taking the baby Jesus up to the temple in Jerusalem in accordance with God’s law handed down through Moses. Firstly, for Mary it completed the 40-day period of purification required of mothers following the birth of a child; secondly, Jesus was consecrated to the Lord and his parents signified this by making a sacrifice of a pair of doves or two young pigeons; thirdly, it was the first entry of Jesus into the temple.
I don’t think Mary and Joseph could have envisaged the very special meetings that were to be included in this temple visit – more of that in a moment.
On the last day of January I paid what has become an annual visit to Anglesey Abbey (a National Trust property with stunning grounds some seven miles east of Cambridge) for the Snowdrop Festival. With dampness in the air and a bitterly cold wind coming across from the Fens I wandered through the area of the grounds that lends itself so appropriately to a winter landscape. The stark white columns of young silver birch, the glossy leaves of evergreens and the warmth and splendour of the dogwoods robed in oranges and reds drew my eyes to the abundant varieties of snowdrops beneath them. Bobbing in the wind, their demurely bowed blooms belied the strengths of this harbinger of Spring – a faithful and assured return each year, the determination in growing through often thick undergrowth and peaty soil and their withstanding of the wintry winds and ice and snow.
As I wandered and pondered I was reminded that snowdrops are also called Candlemas Bells and this and their very nature drew me to thinking about that Temple visitation over 2000 years ago and the five people involved.
Elderly Simeon – “righteous and devout” – we see his trust in the revelation through God’s Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. Anna, the prophetess – she worshipped in the temple day and night and gave thanks when she came across the young family. An amazing evangelist too as she spoke to “everyone” about Jesus! Mary – what a roller-coaster ride she had been through in her young life! Yet in the snowdrop we can be reminded of her humility and strength in the years to come, especially at the foot of the cross as her beloved first-born gave up his life for our sins. Joseph – I always sense his quiet obedience, faithfulness and determined strength – not unlike the snowdrop. And the baby Jesus – Simeon held the baby in his arms (verse 28) and praised God and said Jesus would be “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel”.
As we read this passage of Scripture again, I pray we will each find encouragement for our individual journeys in the light and loving sacrifice of the Christ Child and in the characters of the four obedient and faithful people who surrounded him with love on that day in the Temple. Perhaps too, the nature of the Candlemas Bells can be visual reminders of the obedience, faithfulness, love and promises that are seen in these verses.