On Wednesday of this past week, the church celebrated Candlemas. This marks the end of the Christmas/Epiphany seasons and starts the countdown to Lent and Easter. In some cultures, this is the day the last of the Christmas decorations are taken down; at a meeting at work this week, a colleague complained how the wind was blowing her Christmas tree that she had left outside; however I suspect this was not because she intended to mark Candlemass… The name comes from the custom of blessing the candles that were going to be used in church throughout the coming year. However, at the heart of the festival is the commemoration of the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple at Jerusalem, where he was to be admitted into the Jewish faith by circumcision. Behind this, is a command from the Old Testament, of how every first-born male was to be consecrated to God, to mark the liberation of the Israelites from Egypt, where they were kept as slaves.
This link between freedom from oppression and Candlemas is perhaps not one that gets much attention. But it provides a reminder that we worship a God who cares about justice, a God who brings freedom for those in captivity or oppression. Jesus himself, at the very start of his ministry, in his home village of Nazareth, declared that he had come to bring freedom. This includes political and economic freedom, but perhaps in our world we can also think of the social and mental pressures that we feel and which seek to enslave us. I am very aware of the effect of these in the workplace and in education, the way many young people in particular struggle. At Candlemas we are reminded of the God who liberates us from the pressures of an unbalanced world.