New light has dawned

Today’s song, continuing the Candlemas theme, is “New light has dawned, the son of God is here” by Paul Wigmore. In terms of Biblical stories of Jesus, the first three verses cover the incarnation, the announcement to the shepherds (but surprisingly not the magi), the presentation to Simeon (meriting its inclusion among hymns for this season) and the later episode where the adolescent Jesus debates theology with the Temple priests in Jerusalem. The common thread is that anyone who encounters Jesus encounters light, whether through a prophetic word or an apparition of angels.

The qualities of the Christ-light are listed here: it is “a holy light no earthly light outshines”, “the light that casts out fear”, “the light that evil dreads and love defines”, “the light of glory”, and quoting Simeon “the light to lighten gentile eyes”. The fourth verse is our response to Christ as we acclaim him “the light who came to us on earth”.

But what does the “light of Christ” mean to us ordinary believers who haven’t met an angel or had an extraordinary gift of prophecy?  It’s hard to put into words but here’s the best way I can express  it: when Christ is present in my life, there is an optimism to life, a sense that whatever ups and down I experience in physical health or the stresses of work, something or someone is ‘shining down on me’.  When I experience this, even if I shut my eyes so that I see no natural light, it is as if I’m still in a well lit room, not a dark one.  Does that tally with Wigmore’s description?  Fairly well – it certainly casts out fear, or at least anxiety, it can be glorious, and lightens the eyes of this particular gentile.  But what about “the light that evil dreads and love defines”?

This light is not something I experience all the time. Most Christians will agree that love for God is like love for your partner in that after the first few years of excitement, the relationship can easily be taken for granted and the spark of love goes out – not that you dislike your partner or Lord or want to disown them, just that the light of love has gone dim. That’s why the last lines of the hymn ask Christ to “renew the faith you gave at our new birth, destroy the dark, and let your light come in”.  

I’m attending a ‘quiet day’ tomorrow, usually held in a retreat centre but this time with the devotional talks on Zoom and time away from the computer to reflect at home in between them.  I pray Christ will enlighten me again, and pray that for you too.

Kindle a flame to lighten the dark

The song from “Sing Praise” for today, still on the theme of Candlemas, is a very short one, one of John Bell’s brief motets to be sung several times, slowly and meditatively, and ideally with different voices in harmony.  The text is short enough to quote in full: “Kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take all fear away”.

I wrote at length yesterday about Candlemas, so like the song I will keep it brief today.  Following on from where the last blog post finished, Candlemas is a time to remember that “do not fear” is one of the most common phrases in the Bible, and it is the light of eternal life kindled in Jesus that enables fears of all kinds to be taken away.

Whatever your fear is, sing (or say) this text to yourself several times, slowly, and ask Jesus to take the fear away and replace it with His light. “Kindle a flame to lighten the dark and take all fear away”.

It’s rounded like an orange

My song for today, the feast of Candlemas, is “It’s rounded like an orange”.   That might be a puzzling title, if you’re not accustomed to the custom of Christingle.  The name literally means ‘Christ fire’ – the old English word for fire is still seen in words such as inglenook and inglebeam, or the mountain Ingleborough.

A Christingle. Image (c) Kolforn CC-by-SA 4.0

The contemporary meaning of Christingle is a decorated orange with candles, celebrating the Christian symbolism of the 40-day season from Christmas to Candlemas, as made by children (and sometimes adults) in many European churches. The tradition is said to originate from the Moravian Church in Germany in 1747 but only became popular in England in the later 20th century. See the illustration, and the words of the hymn (originally a poem) which can be found in full here

In Sing Praise, the final stanza of the poem is used as a chorus to be sung after each verse.  The words of the other stanzas give an idea of the symbolism – the orange for the earth, a candle for the light of Christ, a red ribbon for his blood shed for us (although the hymn shies away from referring to this directly, instead referring only to Jesus ‘giving his life for the lost’), and dried fruit on four sticks for the four seasons of the agricultural year. The completed article may be displayed lit on a windowsill to demonstrate that this is a Christian home, or just as a sign of hope at a dark time of year.

I could have put this song about Christingle at the back end of the year because some churches have their Christingle service in Advent.  Others have it on Christmas Eve (the setting of this hymn to the tune of the popular carol ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ suggests this is intended) or around Epiphany, but still others on Candlemas itself.  There were plenty of other hymns to fill the Advent/Christmas season, though, so that’s why I put it here, with a setting of Nunc Dimittis – the canticle most closely associated with Candlemas – for tomorrow.

So may Christ the light of the world be the fire in your heart today.

Light of the World, true light divine

We are approaching the end of the extended season of Christmas/Epiphany, which is marked by Candlemas on 2 February (next Tuesday).  So I’m starting a short series of hymns and songs around that theme.  The first, “Light of the world, true light divine” does indeed look back to Christmas – which for many people will be a distant memory by now – with a reminder of the baby Jesus in the manger, and hailing him as the “long awaited light”, which is essentially what Candlemas celebrates. 

But this point in the Christian year is very much a pivot point as we turn away from reflecting on Jesus’ birth and begin to look forward in anticipation to the events of Holy Week, which this year falls around the beginning of April.  There are hints of this in the words of the hymn: “Life of the world, a life laid down, who chose the cross before the crown” (v.2) and “you came to set a lost world right” (v.3).

The Bible in a Year – 2 February

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this.

2 February. Leviticus chapters 5-7

There were many kinds of “offering” (animal or grain sacrifices) in this Levitical law.  Mainly the sin and guilt offerings (seemingly two different things, perhaps depending on whether the sin was deliberate or not).  For those the priest “made atonement” and could assure the guilty person of God’s forgiveness – although that did not mean they had no other obligations, for if there was any actual loss that could be put right or given a monetary value, the guilty person had to pay it to the wronged party with an additional one fifth. In modern law that would be described as both compensation to the victim and a fine. The ritual law of religion is not intended to replace a secular liability, but is additional to it and might just help the guilty to “go straight” in future.


But the passage also lists other kinds of offering: votive, freewill and the “thanksgiving offering for well-being”.  These could presumably be offered at any time rather than as an obligation. We tend to forget that.  God is not only a lawgiver who demands that someone makes atonement for sin and puts wrongs right, he is also the source of all goodness and deserving of our genuinely voluntary thanks, backed up by gifts of money or possessions.  As a well known Christian song puts it, “Freely, freely, you have received: Freely, freely give”.


Today is the Christian celebration of Candlemas when we remember Jesus being ceremonially “redeemed” by his parents by way of a small sacrifice of two turtle doves (as mentioned in today’s reading). This was because all firstborn sons were considered to belong to God and had to be “bought back”.  But it could also be seen as an act of thanksgiving for the child. Mary and Joseph made an offering on behalf of Jesus, who would go on to become an offering for us all. Thank God!