A Sonnet for Candlemas

Against the dark our Saviour's face is bright

Though the 12 days of Christmas ended at Twelth Night and Epiphany, there is another sense in which this season, in which we reflect on the great mystery of God in Christ as an infant, continues until February 2nd, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

This feast came to be called by the shorter and more beautiful name of Candlemas because the day it celebrates, recorded in Luke 2:22-40, is the day the old man Simeon took the baby in his arms and recognised him as ‘A Light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of thy people Israel.’ It became the custom of the church to light a central candle and bring it to the altar to represent the Christ-light, and also on the occasion of this feast to bless all the ‘lights’ or candles in the church, praying that all who saw that outward and visible light would remember also and be blessed by the inner light of Christ ‘who lightens everyong who comes into the world.’

It had always been prophesied that God would one day come into the Temple that human beings had built for him, though Solomon, who built the first temple had said ‘even the Heavens are too small to hold you much less this temple I have built’. Candlemas is the day we realise that eternity can come into time and touch us in the form of a tiny child, that God appears at last in His Temple, not as a transcendent overlord, but as a vulnerable pilgrim, coming in His Love to walk the road of life along side us.

I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the beautiful image above. She writes:

“This picture is of my first born on his first outing to walk to the station
with his grand-mother who was returning to France. he was four days old. On
the way back I stopped at the local bakers, whom I knew well and we were
both properly feasted. Was I proud and pleased! I choose it because
something of these lines was my feeling

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.

He was a new little Temple of the Lord. There was definitely a sense of awe
for me. We chose his name for the Olive branch brought by the dove. I did
not like that shirt very much (it had been passed on) but for the dove…”

As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button if it appears or on the title of the poem

Candlemas

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.

14 Comments

Filed under christianity, Poems

14 responses to “A Sonnet for Candlemas

  1. Jo

    Thank you Malcolm for your beautiful words. I am planning our home Candlemas celebration at the moment.
    ‘Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright’ – stunning,.

  2. Elizabeth

    Beautiful meditative poem to begin the day. I love the photo that reminds of Christ’s presence in this moment, the contemporaneousness of Christ.

  3. Emilee

    Malcolm, I love these lines: “We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,/ The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.” Even now, in my day, in the busyness of running a household and raising children at home with me–there is a sidelong glimpse at Jesus, who has come, and is with me–and like Anna and Simeon, I am blessed by getting to see him and receive his grace.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Emilee, you’re right it is sometimes those sidelong glances, little glimpses of grace vouchsafed in the midst of everything else that centre us again and keep us going. Glad you found this sonnet helpful I am gradually completing a sequence of these that will go through the whole church year, but these too have to be written in the midst of busyness. 🙂

  4. Candlemas is also the feast of St Brigit in Ireland. And Imbolc for Pagans, celebrating the goddess Brigid.

    I like your take on the contemporaneity of Christ – rather Unitarian 😉 There’s a beautiful hymn/carol by John Andrew Storey (Unitarian hymn writer): “Each time a girl or boy is born, / Incarnate deity we find.”

    A blessed Candlemas to you, Malcolm.

  5. malcolmguite

    Thanks, It is right and good to have a festival of light at this season as the years turns and therefore this is a really appropriate time to celebrate Candlemas. It’s interesting that you see my take on the contemporary Christ as Unitarian, I am in fact Trinitarian in my faith, indeed Trinity is something that makes most sense out of the mystery of incarnation itself, but I certainly believe that the incarnation is an incarnation into all humanity and for all humanity and that God in christ is therefore really present, as he said he would be, in the strangers we meet, especially those whom we can help. a blessed Candlemas to you too!

    • Well the idea of the Christ in everyone appears also in the Eastern Orthodox theology of theosis — so it fits with Trinitarian thought too. (And I assumed you were Trinitarian.) Unitarians these days don’t emphatically reject the Trinity, but regard it as just another way of seeing the Divine, which is beyond all names and forms. (The Tao that can be named is not the true Tao.) Abother great Unitarian quote on the Incarnation is from James Martineau: “The incarnation is true, not of Christ exclusively, but of Man universally, and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there; and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine”.

  6. I enjoyed listening to this poem, but I would like to suggest that you speak up a little bit so that your listeners don’t have to strain to hear what you are saying (at least at the beginning of this reading). Take this constructive criticism “for what it’s worth”. God bless you & your ministry of spiritual encouragement & poetry. 🙂 Matt. 6:33

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks for letting me know about this difficulty. I record these poems using the audioboo app on my iphone, and the recording volume does seem to vary, but ill try raising my voice 🙂

  7. Thanks Malcolm
    beautiful words for a timeless feast..
    wishing you a joyful day this Candlemas
    G

  8. friain

    Enjoyed reading your sonnet as I prepared for our evening mass today – thanks for the quiet focus and intensity [like a candle against the dark?]

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks for the comment I’m glad you found the sonnet helpful. It’s one of a sequence on the whole church year which is very near completion

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