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Candlemas  - White

picture of candlesIntroduction

Dear friends: forty days ago we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Now we recall the day on which he was presented in the Temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people. As a sign of his coming among us, his mother was purified, as we now come to him for cleansing. In their old age Simeon and Anna recognised him as their Lord, as we today sing of his glory.

Today we celebrate both the joy of his coming and his searching judgement, looking back to the day of his birth and forward to the coming days of his passion.

Opening Verse of Scripture Psalm 118:19

Open for me the gates of righteousness; I will enter and give thanks to the LORD.

Collect Prayer for the Day—Before we read we pray

Almighty and ever-living God, clothed in majesty, whose beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple, in substance of our flesh: grant that we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts, by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Lord Jesus Christ, light of the nations and glory of Israel: make your home among us, and present us pure and holy to your heavenly Father, your God, and our God.

Eternal Lord, our beginning and our end: bring us with the whole creation to your glory, hidden through past ages and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.

First Bible Reading  Malachi Chapter 3:1-5

"See, I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come," says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. "So I will come near to you for judgment. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive aliens of justice, but do not fear me," says the LORD Almighty.

Second Reading  Hebrews Chapter 2:14-18

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil-- and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. 

Gospel ReadingLuke Chapter 2:22-40

When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons." Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." The child's father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.

Post Communion Prayer

Lord, you fulfilled the hope of Simeon and Anna, who lived to welcome the Messiah: may we, who have received these gifts beyond words, prepare to meet Christ Jesus when he comes to bring us to eternal life; for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.


This special Sunday has been called ‘The Presentation of Christ in the Temple’, ’The Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary’, and ‘Candlemas.’ Candlemas celebrates the many themes of these events, presentation, purification and light for the world. The presentation of Jesus in the Temple took place 40 days after his birth. For us 40 days after Christmas Day falls on February 2, but it is celebrated in church on the Sunday nearest that date. Candlemas is a watershed in the church year, it marks the point at which we take a last look back at Christmas and then turn our minds firmly towards the Easter cross. We have been working through the Sundays of Epiphany, now we leave them behind and soon it will be Lent, for this reason it has been called a ‘bitter-sweet Sunday.’ This feast of Candlemas which we celebrate today can be traced to at least 543. The Feast of Lighted candles is mentioned by Bede and St. Eligius, who was bishop of Noyon from 640 to 648.

Let’s look at the history behind this festival
So today we remember Jesus as just 40 days old and taken to the Temple by Mary, as ordered by the Jewish Law. Here is the commandment from Leviticus Chapter 12 and starting at verse 1. It is worth quoting in full because it puts our readings and the service today into historical perspective.

The LORD said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites: 'A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding. "'When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. He shall offer them before the LORD to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood. "'These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.'"

What this passage tells us is that according to Jewish law, women were considered unclean after the birth of a child and were not permitted to enter the Temple to worship. This state of uncleanness lasted 40 days after the birth of a son and 80 days after the birth of a daughter. At the end of the 40 or 80 days, the mother was brought to the Temple or synagogue and ritually purified. After this she could once again attend religious services and go out in public.

Since Jesus was a boy, it was 40 days after Mary gave birth that she attended at the Temple to bring a sacrifice. Now we are led to understand from Luke, that Mary did not bring a year old lamb, the reading mentions ‘a pair of doves or two young pigeons,’ one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. This implies that Mary presented the option for poorer people, so we may suppose that Joseph and Mary were not very wealthy. Nevertheless as faithful Jews they did their religious duty and observed the Law of Moses when it came to such things as childbirth, circumcision, and other rituals.

Luke is careful to point out that Jesus was a Jew who had his roots in the Old Testament. But clearly in this passage we see that Luke makes the point that with Jesus there is more than just a following of the old order of law. Candlemas is a time when we remember the old recognised Jesus, who brings in the new. Luke shows that the story of Jesus was confirmed by two prophets, Simeon and Anna, who spoke of Jesus under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We have this marvellous story of Simeon to whom it had been revealed "that he would not see death until he had set eyes on the Christ of the Lord.’ Prompted by the Spirit he came to the Temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the Law required, he took him into his arms and blessed God; and spoke the beautiful words which we know as the The Nunc Dimittis Luke 2:29. For me it has to be in the King James Version

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

Simeon says that God is setting him free as a slave is granted liberty. He is now free to die (for the Spirit's revelation to him is now fulfilled), and Israel is free of bondage. God has saved Israel, as he promised to "all peoples". God's salvation is for Gentiles as well as Israel. The old could pass away because the new had come and the future for us all would be safe in his hands.

But, Simeon finishes with some disturbing words. This marvellous salvation through Jesus had a dark side. Not everyone will take kindly to Jesus, there will be a falling as well as a arising of many in Israel. Jesus will be a sign that will be spoken against, he will cause a crisis in Israel. Decisions will have to be made for him or against him. The sword of Jesus will divide, discriminate, and judge the thoughts, attitudes, and relationships of all people. Mary the mother of Jesus will go through the same crisis, everyone must decide what to do with Jesus. Simeon recognised something special in Jesus and he knew that he had indeed seen the Lord's Christ, and that young or old he could depart in peace, for the eyes of faith had seen God's salvation: perhaps not the salvation he was expecting, the vindication of a particular people: but something bigger and better, the salvation which God had prepared before the face of all people.

The pagan roots of Candlemas

picture of groundhog day

As well as being mentioned clearly in Leviticus and Luke, this date also lies half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, so it marks the day upon which winter is half over! Like many Christians festivals, including Christmas itself, Candlemas has roots which lie deep in pagan roots and an understanding of nature.
Imbolc was an important day in the Celtic calendar. (pronounced 'im'olk' also known as Oimelc) comes from an Irish word that was originally thought to mean 'in the belly' although many people translate it as 'ewe's milk' (oi-melc). As winter stores of food were getting low Imbolc rituals were performed to harness divine energy that would ensure a steady supply of food until the harvest six months later.
Like many Celtic festivals, the Imbolc celebrations centred around the lighting of fires. Fire was perhaps more important for this festival than others as it was also the holy day of Brigid (also known as Bride, Brigit, Brid), the Goddess of fire, healing and fertility. The lighting of fires celebrated the increasing power of the Sun over the coming months. For the Christian calendar, this holiday was reformed and renamed 'Candlemas' when candles are lit to remember the purification of the Virgin Mary.

As Candlemas traditions evolved, many people embraced the legend that if the sun shone on the second day of February, an animal would see its shadow and there would be at least six more weeks of winter. Bears or badgers are watched in some European countries, but the German immigrants who settled in Pennsylvania found an abundance of groundhogs and late in the 19th century a few residents in Punxsutawney began celebrating the groundhog as weather prophet. So we have Groundhog Day.

picture of groundhog
If Candlemas be fair and bright, Come, winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Go, winter, and come not again.




Today we focus on Luke's story of the meeting between the Child Jesus and the aged Simeon. In the Greek-speaking world the feast was called HYPAPANTI (the encounter). In this juxtaposition of the Child and the old man. Simeon could be expressing his hope for someone with a new determination to do better But it is not just passing all of our hopes onto a new generation - we made a mess of it but were sure that you will do better - they won't, they will be just as bad as we were. At Candlemas the Church sees the encounter between the world without Christ and the world with a new beginning in Christ, between the fading age of the Old Covenant embodied in the curse of Leviticus and the new era of the Church of all nations. Simeon calls Jesus "a light to enlighten the Gentiles." Accordingly this day was made into a feast of candles. The warm candlelight is meant to be a tangible reminder of that greater light which, for and beyond all time, radiates from the figure of Jesus. We ourselves are reminded of the need to be prepared to burn brightly ourselves in the midst of this dark world. We take a light, but it is not our own light, no light of our own would be bright enough, rather it is the light of Christ. The light which at the beginning of creation shined in the darkness and which no darkness, no blindness, could overcome, and this light was a light to lighten the gentiles, the nations, all the nations and races and culture of people.


1. I will sing I will sing
2. Come on and celebrate
3. Faithful vigil
4. When we walk with the Lord
5. I want to walk with Jesus Christ


Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech thee that, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

O Lord Jesus Christ, as a child you were presented in the Temple and received with joy by Simeon and Anna as Redeemer of Israel: mercifully grant that we like them, may be guided by the Holy Spirit to acknowledge and love you until the end of our lives. Amen (Church of South India)

A Prayer to Bless Candles. God our Father, whose Son was revealed to Simeon as the light of the nations, and the glory of Israel, let these candles (+) be to us a sign of his light and presence, that, guided by the Holy Spirit, we may live by the light of faith until we come to the light of glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Let the flame of your love never be quenched in our hearts, O Lord. Waking or sleeping, living or dying, let us delight in your presence. Let the flame of your love brighten our souls and illumine our path, and let the majesty of your glory be our joy, our life and our strength now and for ever. Amen Johann Arndt, 1555-1621

Let us all hasten to meet Christ, we who honour and venerate the divine mystery we celebrate today. Everyone should be eager to join the procession to share in this meeting. Let no one refuse to carry a light. Our bright shining candles are a sign of the divine splendour of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ. The God-bearer the most pure virgin, carried the true Light in her arms and brought him to help those who lay in darkness. In the same way we too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.
Sophronius of Jerusalem

Lord give us the eyes of faith,
to see your presence in the world.
Where fear closes our eyes, help us.
Where tears blind us, heal us.
Where busyness keeps us from noticing, slow us.
Where pride gets in the way, release us
Set us free to see your love at work in the world. Amen

The Candlemas Prayer

Lord God, you are the source of everlasting light.
Your son, our beloved Lord Jesus
was presented in the temple 40 days after his birth.
He was recognised by Simeon and Anna,
and welcomed as the promised Messiah.
May we like them, behold the glory of the Lord Jesus.
Grant that we may stand before you
with hearts cleansed by your forgiving love.
May we serve you all our days
and make your name known
as we worship you as our Lord.
So may we come by your grace
to eternal life .

O God, who in the work of creation commanded the light to shine out of darkness: we pray that the light of the glorious gospel of Christ may shine into the hearts of all your people, dispelling the darkness of ignorance and unbelief , and revealing to them the knowledge of your glory in the face of Jesus Christ. Amen.