How long do you celebrate Christmas?
For many, the tree and decorations go up in early December but may well be down by New Year.
Others follow a more traditional approach, celebrating the twelve days of Christmas with decorations brought down for Epiphany, 6th January.
However, at St. Stephen’s we celebrate the birth of Jesus for the full forty days – right through the liturgical seasons of Christmas and Epiphany – culminating with the Feast of Candlemas on 2nd February. Candlemas marks a shift in our worship turning our attention on from His birth and towards Lent and the Passion of Jesus.
At Candlemas, the Church remembers the story told in the Gospel of Luke of the infant Jesus being presented by Mary and Joseph in the Temple in Jerusalem in obedience to the law and custom set out in Leviticus 12 and Exodus 13 v12. Here they meet an old man, Simeon, who is described as righteous, devout, and eagerly awaiting the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. Simeon rejoices that, before he dies, he has now seen this child, who will be ‘a light to the nations’.
But the feast of Candlemas, celebrated by the lighting and extinguishing of candles (hence its name), is a bittersweet feast. Simeon also warns the child’s mother of the pain and suffering she is to face because of her Son. So Candlemas looks backwards to the birth of the child and the joy of Christmas, but also forwards to the suffering and death on the cross.
The closing prayer for worship on Candlemas at St. Stephen’s:
Father, here we bring to an end our celebrations of the Saviour’s birth.
Help us, in who he has been born, to live his life that has no end.
Here we have greeted the Light of the world.
Help us, who now extinguish these candles, never to forsake the light of Christ.
Here we turn from Christ’s birth to his passion.
Help us, for whom Lent is near, to enter deeply into the joy of Easter.
Here we bless one another in your name.
Help us, who now go in peace, to shine with your light in the world.
Thanks be to God!