In the pagan calendars Candlemas is a halfway feast—halfway between solstice and equinox—halfway between winter and spring—halfway between darkness and light. The Celtic name for the celebration says it perfectly, Imbolc, meaning something like “in the womb”. Today we are in the womb and celebrating it—we are not yet fully alive but by no means dead.
So today we celebrate in-between-ness. Inbetweenness as a place, a place of meeting, a place where life and death bump into each other: light and dark, old and new.
The relationship between light and dark usually gets made into myth as struggle or bitter opposition or even warfare. But neither the Pagan nor the Christian festival does quite that. The Eastern Church calls this feast “The Encounter” after the meeting between the infant Jesus and the old folk who recognise him—an encounter they meet with relief and not with struggle. Simeon and Anna welcome the new born light and see in him something to fulfil their lives.
But if the light isn’t struggling with the darkness it hasn’t quite replaced it either. We are still waiting. The “light to enlighten the pagans”, “the glory to Israel” may well have seen daylight but the day of the Lord is delayed, the kingdom is only coming. We didn’t even get sunshine today and winter’s got a ways to run.
And maybe that’s not all bad. Maybe Malachi has it about right when he talks of the coming of God: “The Lord you are seeking”—yes. “The messenger of the covenant whom you are longing for”—oh yes. … But “who will be able to resist the day of his coming, and who will remain standing when he appears?”
That confluence of desire and dread marks out the in-between in our own hearts. We do not have undivided hearts. All mixed up in us are life and death, light and dark, old and new, winter and spring. That’s how it is—and maybe that’s how it should be. Look at Jesus. Look at the baby, the child, the growing man. All potential. Who knows how he will turn out? Who knows how we will turn out? Light and dark, life and death, winter and spring.
In truth we are less a battlefield and more a womb. And maybe in the halfway dark all sorts of glories will ripen if we hold them with care and wait their coming to term.