Updated: Feb 1
All together now:
‘On the 34th day of Christmas my true love sent to me …’
Yes, today is the 34th day of Christmas. Good, isn’t it? For Christians, Christmas starts on Christmas Day, and ends with Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. We’ll be cheating slightly, bringing that celebration forward from next Wednesday to Sunday evening at 4pm. In this Eucharist we look backwards to the crib, and forwards to the cross. We watch in awe as Mary and Joseph bring the child to the Temple; we listen in amazement as Simeon sings the Nunc Dimittis for the first time, and Anna the prophetess proclaims the child’s greatness. Our hearts break as we hear how Mary’s heart will be shattered in pieces; and with candles in our hands for the first time for two years, we proclaim that the True Light can never be smothered by the darkness of sin and death. I hope very much that you’ll be there. Because if this doesn’t matter to you, why should it matter to anyone else?
Image: The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge Historiated initial showing the Presentation in the Temple with Simeon and Anna holding the infant Christ on the right, Mary and Joseph on the left, and a mitred priest behind holding the knife for Christ’s circumcision. From the Introit to the Mass for the Purification of the Virgin (2 February), Suscepimus, Deus, misericordiam in medio templi tui. C. 1370
That last line is not mine – it was Michael Mayne, writing in 1980, urging the people of Great St Mary’s to take the liturgical year seriously. And so we should – for the great cycles of the Incarnation and Passion are the ritual motors of our faith, reminding us who we are and why we are; Who it is that loves us so, and why we love Him in return.
Hundreds of years ago worshippers in the churches of Cambridge would have saved up money to buy themselves decent beeswax candles. Such candles were expensive, and treasured. At Candlemas they would have brought them
to church, had them blessed, and
taken them home with joy.
They were signs of light and hope. More than that – they kept the Darkness,
with a capital D, at bay.
We might smile patronisingly at mediæval superstition. But I wonder if that’s very wise? For the world I live in strikes me as distinctly murky – and the only thing that makes sense of it for me is this: that the True Light, which enlightens everyone, has come into the world. Merry Christmas.