This week the Church celebrates Candlemas which commemorates the occasion when the Virgin Mary, in obedience to Jewish law, went to the Temple in Jerusalem to be purified 40 days after the birth of her son Jesus and to present him to God as her firstborn. Hence it is always celebrated on February 2nd.
Before the Church adopted this day as a Christian Festival, it was known as the ‘Feast of Light’ as it falls halfway between the longest day and the Spring equinox and it celebrated the increased strength of the sun.
Tradition says that manger scenes in churches should not be put away until Candlemas, which is the last feast of the Christmas cycle. It was the day when all the candles that were to be used during the coming year were brought into the church and blessed. Hence the Festival or Mass for the candles became known as Candlemas.
Of course for Christians, it’s significance is not so much the increased strength of the sun but rather that the true light of the world had come and as he was made known in the presentation at the temple, so he burst forth into a dark world!
For someone who struggles with the lack of sunlight in the winter, I love Candlemas and try to keep my Christmas lights up until then. I also like to fill the house with candles, as it reminds me that one day soon, all darkness will be swallowed up as we behold the Light of Christ when we, like Simeon, meet God face to face.
I’ve always hated the game of snakes and ladders. A few steps forwards and maybe a little progress up a ladder and then you slip down that slimy fiend! Or just when you think you are nearly winning, you hit the big one and slide all the way back to the beginning! So frustrating!
It’s a bit like life isn’t it? The forward steps are always a bit of a climb - an effort - and progress is often slow; then the obstacles, challenges and difficulties that strew our way are real slippery characters upon which we so easily slide backwards and end in a disheartening heap of disappointment.
This is one of the reasons that the Bible tells us the importance of encouraging one another - spurring one another on, because the game of life is not always enjoyable. The Bible also says don’t give up meeting together and that’s for the same reason - we need the support of our friends and Christian family, they help to pickus up when we feel like givingup.
So if you’re tempted to pack up and give up this week, stay strong and keep persevering, because eventually one of those ‘ladders’ is going to be the winner and lead us all the way up to Heaven!
In the garden was an old treehouse, it had certainly seen better days! It was built high in the branches of a large oak tree and the only way up was by a rickety wooden ladder that looked rather damp and was probably rotten through. I could imagine the years of fun some children had had climbing up and down to that playhouse in the trees but there was no way I was going to trust that ladder enough to climb up there myself!
Eventually curiosity got the better of me and I found a shiny new aluminium ladder in the shed which I propped up securely against the tree trunk. Up I went, without a moment’s thought.
The lines above are just a story but they illustrate the difference between belief and trust.
I believed the old wooden ladder and the new metal one were both ladders, designed to be climbed. Yet only one of them filled me with any confidence, only in one of them could I put my trust enough to climb up.
The Bible talks a lot about faith and the thing about faith is that it must contain both belief and trust. It’s one thing to believe in Jesus Christ, believe he existed and even to understand his purpose; but to put our trust in him, to confidently place our lives in his hands - often blindly - is a completely different ask! That is why the Church of England’s services of baptism and confirmation both ask the important question:
“Do you believe and trust in Him?”
Dog walking through the countryside can sometimes be frustrating when footpaths cross grazing fields which are protected by new stock fencing, padlocked gates and styles built too high for your dog to jump over. Of course they are there to protect the farmer’s stock from predators or just from roaming off and getting lost. These designated boundaries keep the stock in and trouble out!
And so it is with all boundaries in life, they sometimes frustrate us but are there for a reason. Anyone who has brought up children knows how important boundaries are, to make the child feel safe and to help them to know what is expected of them. Boundaries are our way of protecting and looking after ourselves. They are the invisible gatekeepers to our lives, keeping the good in and the not-so-good out.
So it follows that God, as our loving Father, would also want to place boundaries within our Christian lives. We may not always feel that we want to have to follow all the Bible’s teachings but it is God’s way of protecting us, keeping us out of the path of trouble and keeping us from roaming away from him.
Like any father’s discipline, it sometimes feels restrictive and can be painful while it lasts but there is always a good reason for it because he cares for us and wants us to enjoy a safe walk through life’s green pastures!