At each baptism in the Episcopal Church a candle, lit from the Paschal Candle, is given to the newly-baptized (or an adult sponsor). While there is no “official” liturgical formula for this action, I usually use these words when presenting the candle: “Receive the light of Christ, that when the bridegroom comes you may go forth with all the saints to meet him; and see that you keep the grace of your baptism. Amen.”
Very often these baptismal candles are extinguished and put in their presentation box, and then packed away—a memento in some special place at home, never to see the light of day again. While reasonable in a purely human way, it is a great mistake in the spiritual life to put the “light of Christ” in a box and stow it away as a kind of pleasant memory.
The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple (also known as Candlemas) celebrates an event recorded in the Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 2. It is a unique window into a moment of beauty and significance, pointing not only to Christ’s identity as Messiah, but to the great humility of God in coming to be our Savior, the great love and risk taken by the Blessed Virgin Mary in bearing the Son of God into the world, and the utterly unexpected people (such as Simeon and Anna) God uses to proclaim the truth.
This day is also a celebration of light: the light of God’s physical presence in Christ coming into the Temple, the light that enlightens all people (about which Simeon’s canticle in Luke 2:29-32 speaks), and the light each of us walk in when we follow Jesus not as a good teacher or one who agrees with our personal opinions, but (as St. Peter says in John 6:68) the one “who has the words of eternal life.” It is that latter light that must not be forgotten or packed away or in any other sense become merely theoretical.
At Candlemas it the Church’s ancient custom to assemble for worship at a place apart from the usual gathering-spot and there to receive, light, and bless candles. After hearing again St. Simeon’s words about “a light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel,” we physically bear this light in procession into the darkened church building, recalling Christ’s entry into the Temple so long ago.
The privilege as Christians to bear light into darkness is, however, a current obligation. From the moment of baptism, we are made part of a Body of Light. This holy day makes concrete and visual what is always true. We may all be called to bear the Light of Christ differently—for some the quiet but intense encounter of the aged Simeon, or perhaps the energetic witness of Anna, or the wonderment-in-the-midst of events of the Blessed Virgin or St. Joseph—but bear that light we must.
So, take out your baptism candle and burn it on this day and on the anniversary of your baptism. If your parish has a Candlemas liturgy, attend it and hold your light consciously and with gratitude. If your church doesn’t observe this holy day, agitate for it next year and light a candle tonight while reading the collect and lessons for this day, rejoicing in the light of Christ now come into your life—and “keep the grace of your baptism” anew, and always.