Today is Candlemas; in the Christian church, this day marks the true end of Christmastide, by celebrating the day forty days after the birth of Jesus, when Mary would have presented her baby at the temple, as all Jewish mothers of sons were required to do. She would have presented a sacrifice to the priests so that she could be purified after childbirth.
On this day, we remember devout Simeon, who has been promised that he would see the Messiah--and so he waits and he waits and he waits. But finally, at the end of his life, he does hold the light of the world, the baby Jesus, in his hands.
Imagine it: to hold the light of the world in your hands. In so many ways we still do. We carry the light of the world inside us. How can we, as embodied light from God, deliver this light to the world?
There are other holidays happening today too; Groundhog's Day is probably most famous. The pagan festivals of Imbolc and Oimelc celebrate the stirring of seeds, the shifting of seasons, the time when the planet begins the tilt to spring in the Northern Hemisphere.
Today is a day when churches, monasteries, and abbeys across the world will bless the year's supply of candles. I find myself enchanted by that idea. It's also a day that celebrates the sprouting of seeds, deep in the dark ground where we can't see them. It's also an idea that inspires me.
Those of us in the bog of political despair may be feeling like we will never see light again. This morning, on the BBC radio program Witness, I heard this 10 minute segment that reminded listeners that today marks the anniversary of the announcement of the dismantling of apartheid back in 1990. I remember hearing news reports; I thought some cruel trick was about to be unleashed. A week later, Nelson Mandela would walk out of prison; I held my breath, waiting for an assassination which did not come. Mandela would go on to win the presidency in 1994.
Those who are younger than I am might not realize how huge that event was for me and many other activists. Apartheid seemed like a government system that had existed forever, an entrenched evil that had a deathgrip on the country.
And then, it vanished, and a much more humane system evolved. It's still far from perfect, but it's better than the old system.
Some of us worry that we're seeing the end of democracy in our country, that we may be in the deathgrip of evil ourselves. But today, on this day that celebrates the sprouting of new seeds and the reminder of the cyclical nature of the seasons, let us focus on the light.
According to some traditions, today is the last day of Christmas, but most of us bid that season goodbye 30-40 days ago. Today would be a good day to give ourselves one last gift: a meal together with those whom we love perhaps, or some down time to do the activities which bring us joy.
In this way, we can cup our hands around our candlelit spirits, which may feel a bit flickery. In this way, we can protect our dimly burning wicks so that we can live to blaze another day.