Candlemas is approaching (2 Feb). This is the festival in the Church’s calendar when we commemorate the presentation of the child Jesus in the temple and so Jesus’ first entry into the temple. We also commemorate the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the ceremony by which Mary, like all Hebrew women, was re-admitted to the religious community after a period of exclusion following childbirth. Of course this is sexist and objectionable on a number of different levels.
But this year Candlemas may make us think harder and perhaps act more kindly. (‘Kindness’ after all etymologically points to ‘kindred’, to what unites, and however arbitrary words may be, their relationships can tell us a lot about culture.) Mary is an outcast– an unmarried teenage mother in a society where pregnancy before marriage was legitimate grounds for expulsion from society and even stoning–and a homeless refugee on the run from the power-crazed Herod who carried out mass murder of all baby boys in his domain in attempt to snuff out the infant king he had heard had been born.
Of course we have just heard of the tyrannical decree of President Trump selectively excluding refugees from Muslim majority countries where he happens not to have business interests from coming to the US. (It is noteworthy that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, from which known terrorists have come, are not on the list of banned countries seemingly because Trump has commercial connections there.) We hear of newly-wed husbands and wives separated seemingly indefinitely, of the newly-knighted Olympic-medal-winning Sir Mo Farah fearing he may not be able to return to his family in the USA. But we hear of protesters at many major US airports voicing their concern. Now is a particularly timely moment for us all to remember the imperative of welcoming strangers. We may not know quite who they are–and in not knowing we may come to find we have played some part in the transformation of the world for the better.