If you were to take a look at the High Street’s calendar, you might think Christmas began just after Wimbledon, and stopped on January 1st. I know I go on about this, but if you take the church’s calendar, it begins on Christmas Eve and goes on… you thought I was going to say Twelfth Night, didn’t you? But I’m not, I’m going to say FEBRUARY.
February 2nd, to be precise, Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation. In the old days this was when the greenery was finally taken down – ‘Down with the rosemary, and so – down with the bays and mistletoe – down with the holly, ivy, all – wherewith ye dress’d the Christmas hall’, the poet Robert Herrick put it in the 17th century. So the greenery goes out as the snowdrops appear, or Candlemas bells, as they are known, the church reminding us that the promise of greenness and growth is undiminished even by the bleak midwinter. That promise is paid out at Easter, on the other side of Lent, and anticipated in the birth of Christ on Christmas Eve, a great and mighty wonder, witnessed by the shepherds, then the kings, at the Epiphany, and made manifest by his baptism, at the wedding at Cana, and finally at Candlemas, in the Temple.
So the story of the Incarnation is actually an arc rather than a single scene, an arc that begins with the Annunciation when Mary got the startling news that she was to be a mother, which reaches fulfilment with the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem, is endorsed by the arrival of three wise men with their peculiar gifts at the Epiphany, who share that message with the world, and concludes in the Temple, where the baby is shown to the aged priest Simeon, at the threshold of the hereafter, who greets him with the words, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, for I have seen your salvation”. Simeon, the three kings, the shepherds and us, all have had our eyes opened not to the dazzle of tinsel and glitter but to the hope of the world in the life of a child.
May this vision sustain you now and always.
Yours in Christ,