Did you know that woodchucks (aka the groundhog) and Jesus’ birthday have something in common? On the church calendar, February 2nd is Candlemas, the last Feast Day in the Christian year dated in reference to Christmas.
This celebration of Candlemas marks the presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth (as Jewish custom required), and the purification ceremony of the Virgin Mary at the same time. (Luke 2:29-32). The word ‘Candlemas’ (or Candlemass) refers to the custom of blessing and distributing candles and carrying them in procession before the Mass celebrated in churches in many parts of the globe. The lighting of the candles is symbolic of Christ, the light of the world, as Simeon declared in the Luke passage above.
What does that have to do with a groundhog? An old, old rhyme translated from the Scottish tells us:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter will not come again.
So, if the weather is ‘fair and bright’ on Candlemas day, you can expect more winter weather. If the day brings ‘cloud and rain’, then the weather in the weeks ahead should improve. And there you have it: another only-in-America observance involving a groundhog predicting the weather with roots in the Christian calendar, anchored in the life of Christ.
But this post isn’t about Christmas or candles or woodchucks–it’s about reading around the Church Year, anchored not only in the life of Christ but our own lives throughout the seasons, months and days in God’s creation.
Here are seven books currently gracing my bookshelves which have accompanied me in my own cycles through the seasons according to Creation and the birth of Christ. These include poetry and essays by writers from the 1800’s–George MacDonald–through the 1950’s and into the present day, all as rich and varied as their authors.
THE CHURCH YEAR
Sounding the Seasons, 70 Sonnets for the Church Year, Malcolm Guite, Canterbury Press 2012
Candlemas Malcolm Guite
They came, as called, according to the Law.
Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,
They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,
For God was coming with them to His temple.
Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle
They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,
Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,
Had made a killing on the two young doves.
They come at last with us to Candlemas
And keep the day the prophecies came true
We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,
The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.
For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,
Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright.
Malcolm Guite is a poet and priest at Girton College, Cambridge in the U.K. These two vocations dovetail in Sounding the Seasons, making church feasts liturgy accessible to readers who may be less familiar with the church calendar. Guite’s sonnets begin with the season of Advent and read through to the Feast of Christ the King on November 11th. As an Evangelical still learning about the Christian way of marking time, I especially like the Index with Scripture references Guite uses, as well as the correlation to the liturgical calendar.
How can the power of my surrender
be wrapped up in three slight letters?
A mix of mercy in a single syllable?
Placed just so, like fine crystal
refracting evening sun into shards
of light, they precede each sentence,
illuming my way to the next best yes.
I’m grateful to Jesus, who is eternal and an all-at-once God, that we are bound by time.
That we are asked to step into our days one at a time, one yes at a time.
It’s New Year’s Eve as I sit here in my Seattle dining room, typing with a view to the sky. Things are quiet; only the chimes noising their song outside my window as the gray and muted horizon frames the day. It’s time to be pensive and think deep thoughts, I suppose. Here are some of mine as we end not only this year, but an entire decade.
There are those who relish the action of turning the last page of December’s calendar with the promise of a new start each January. But the invisible leap from one year to the next sometimes is akin to falling over a precipice to an uncertain future. The page turning is dramatic and dreadfully sudden with the only certainty that God will be there to catch us.
I much prefer the slow walk into the New Year the Twelve Days of Christmas (from Christmas day until Epiphany on January 6th) provides. A meandering approach to ease into the days ahead with a look, not to something Brand New and Wonderful but to the slow revelation of who God is in the world.
Which is, of course, what Epiphany means. “A showing forth or manifestation.”
We’ve just celebrated Jesus’ birth–the revelation to His Jewish parents of the Messiah as a child. Epiphany is the event when we observe Christ’s appearance to the rest of mankind as the Magi (Gentiles) came from other parts of the world and left with the message that they had seen the Saviour.
Christ’s birth was a singular occasion–The Word, come to Earth as a babe. But walking out what that means as believers in Jesus–taking that message of salvation to the world much as the Wise Men must have done–is a lifelong journey.
What if instead of a freight-filled, auspicious turn from one year to the next, we evened out our steps a bit with a deliberate and intentional walk through all the days afforded us in Twelvetide?
Instead of making January 1st the beginning of each new year, why not make it simply a resting place along the way in a timetable anchored in the life of Christ, as we anchor our lives in His?
Perhaps I’ll begin observing the New Year on January 7th, walking into the world with the Gospel news that Messiah is here, come to bring health, healing and hope for all.
How about you? What are you going to take into the next season? I’d love to hear in the comments.
(This is an edited version of a recent social media post.) Cheers!
Emmanuel. God with us. That’s the core of Christmas, that God the Son left his place in Heaven and came to us as a baby in a manger. What an unlikely beginning for a King. Talk about a disruption.
Our pastor spoke last Sunday of just what that Incarnation looked like, how God came into the world at Christmas. There was a visual he mentioned of Jesus putting his hand on peoples’ hearts to “stop the bleeding.” Not physical bleeding, but that dissipation and dissolution that leads to pain and hurt, often making us act like the broken people we are.
Sometimes just being kind during Christmas is all someone needs to transfuse them with life. I know it’s all I need. Which is why celebrating the birth of Jesus is an act of defiance, to choose to live like people who know that He came.
To notice others, speak kindly to them, acknowledge their worth as people made in God’s image. Wish them a “Merry Christmas” but also ask how they’re doing when they look harassed and harried. During this season most of all we are challenged to incarnate Jesus to the world in the face of all that would cause us to do otherwise. To choose joy in spite of what we see around us.
“Incarnate” means to embody in the flesh. Sometimes (most times) the way we act is more important than what we say. We don’t have to even mention Jesus’ name, but simply act in order that a door might open someday for a conversation about Him.
Of course, there is an enemy of our souls who wants to steal our joy and hijack our message, so it makes sense that it might seem like all Hell breaks loose in the weeks before Christmas. I know, I probably shouldn’t say ‘hell’ in the same sentence where I’m talking about Christ’s birth and all. But I think when God’s kingdom is advancing in the small ways we seek to honor him, there is always pushback.
There can be no manner of doubt a name is more easily remembered when its meaning is understood. –A.J. Macself, from the Foreword, “Plant Names Simplified”
I forgot to plant my amaryllis bulb the week of All Hallow’s Eve. I wrote about the practice in my Christmas season book, how planting a crinkly, brown bulb with antenna-like roots can be a lesson in patience and waiting during the Advent and Christmas season. But I was too busy to remember. Goodness.
So, I potted the inglorious bulb the other day after soaking the accompanying ground-up coconut shreds in warm water, watching them miraculously expand and nearly overtake my 32-ounce glass measuring cup. Amaryllis duly snugged into plastic container, I pondered something while I cleaned up the mess in my sink.
What does ‘amaryllis’ mean, anyway?
I’m fond of learning the Latin for plant names, shrubs and trees. As an amateur gardener, I pride myself on the pronunciation and meaning of the various denizens of my yard and garden. And some of the names are not Latin at all, but simply named for people or a place.