February marks a change in the church’s year and also what we emphasise in the Christian Faith. 2nd February ends perhaps the most popular and well known time in the churches year – Advent, Christmas and Epiphany when the emphasis is on looking forward and the great excitement and celebration of God sending His Son Jesus Christ into the world to be born as a baby in Bethlehem to be the hope, life, light and saviour from the despair and gloom of death. Especially in Advent we look forward not just to preparing for Christmas but that this is not the end of the story but that one day Jesus will come back again in power and great glory to ‘put the wrong things right’ as C S Lewis writes of Narnia’s lion Aslan in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.’
The ‘Christmas Season’ ends with the little known festival of Candlemas or ‘The presentation of Christ in the Temple’ – not the most catchy title for an event! This is always 40 days after Christmas on 2nd February as Mary and Joseph obey the law to present the baby Jesus in the Temple. This is one of the origins of why our law instructs us to register a new born baby within 40 days of birth! As Jesus is brought to the Temple an old faithful man Simeon whom God has promised will not die before he sees God’s Messiah or Christ recognises who Jesus really is. Simeon takes The baby Jesus in his arms and praises God saying ‘now Lord let your servant die in peace as Your Word has been fulfilled. With my own eyes I have seen Your salvation which You have revealed in the sight of all people. A light to reveal You to the nations and the glory of Your people Israel.’, hence this festival is also called Candlemas as in the gloom of February churches are once again lit by Candles as at Christmas and candle processions and other celebrations take place.
But then the church changes gear! It’s almost as if the message is ‘you’ve heard the good news of what God has done; how are you going to respond to it?’ So Sundays become Sundays before Lent and Easter (and there are are few or many depending on the date of Easter). I still love the old names of Sundays before lent I learnt as a child – Septuagesima (70 days), Sexagesima (60 days) and Quinquagesima (50 days) before Easter just before Ash Wednesday the day after Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day begins 40 days of preparation for the Greatest and most important feast, festival and celebration of all – Easter Sunday. At Easter we remember that God raised Jesus from the dead, assuring and sealing the significance of Jesus being sent at Christmas into the world as our saviour as we too can have a sure hope of eternal life in Jesus after this life on earth is ended.
And so in February we are in Lent. An old English word for ‘Spring’ where we get the word ‘lengthen’ from as we pause and reflect on how we respond to all that God has given us in Jesus. It is a wonderful season as the days lengthen and flowers begin to show and we look forward to the joys and new life of Easter. Many people observe ancient traditions of fasting and abstinence, not to ‘give things up’ just for the sake of it. It to make room in our frenetic lives to think about our own short lives and where we are heading.
So have a very special and thoughtful Lent whatever you are doing. Try to make some time to think about the life that God has given you and the new life He offers you in Jesus. Many make extra time to pray, read the bible, attend a Lent group, think, pray, walk, eat and sleep more responsibly. But most of all to think on the implications for each one of us of Gods gift to our world of our Saviour Jesus Christ.