Fourth Sunday of Epiphany – Candlemass
‘The light of Christ’
Luke 2 22-40
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.
Please Light your Candle
May these written words lead us to the living word Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Today we celebrate Candlemass, 40 days since the birth of Jesus and his presentation in the temple. Last week I was talking about the ordinary being turned into the extraordinary, water into wine, and in this account we will see again the ordinary becoming extraordinary.
How good are you at waiting? Some of us will have more patience than others. We live in such an instant world that we are on the whole not good at waiting. We have instant coffee, instant meals, instant post by email, the list is endless. We don’t need to wait for very much. The gospel account today is about someone who had waited all his life for one special moment. Simeon was waiting in the Temple when a young family appear. They have come for a thanksgiving service for their child. This was quite ordinary. Most Jewish families would do the same. They were not rich so they brought a pair of doves as an offering.
A pair of doves - is that all for the saviour of humankind - one whose birth caused angel voices to shout the glorious news from the highest heavens and whose star brought wise men to their knees in adoration? Mary brought so much more than the two doves that the Law required. She brought the joy and love of a young mother, the excitement of having this new life so recently entrusted to her, safely delivered and now resting in her arms. She brought her hopes for this baby she already knew to be the extraordinary son of God. As she brought her thanksgiving she also brought her fears for what this might mean in the years to come
Joseph was there as well, loving this baby as his own. He had risked his livelihood, and his reputation to take Mary as his wife when she was with child. He brought the promise of a home, a childhood with security and a trade but also his doubts and his fears.
Two doves, so ordinary, just as the law required, nothing more, nothing less, done every day, for every first-born baby. But there was so much more being offered on that day, gifts from Mary - gifts from Joseph and recognition by Simeon. Into the normal and the ordinary comes the extraordinary. Simeon takes the baby in his arms and in an instant knows this is the one he had waited all his life to see. We are not told much about Simeon apart from the fact that he was righteous and devout and that it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Messiah. We can only guess what went through his mind. There must have been joy, as well as relief; for there must have been times when his faith had begun to waver. I am sure he had always believed in the words of the prophet, but over the years the flame may have begun to splutter a bit. But that day, there in the temple, suddenly, it all changed. Faith vindicated, hope realized. God had been faithful to his promise - God’s Chosen one was in his arms. Simeon saw the Messiah with his own eyes, touched him with his own hands, now he could die a happy man. Joy, complete, faith rekindled, soul at peace.
The words of Simeon known by the Latin translation of the words he opens with - Numc Dimittis – literally ‘now you dismiss’ has become one of the great songs of the Church. In verses 32 and 34 Simeon gives a summary of the person Jesus would be: ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory of your people Israel this child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed.’
Then there was Anna, often overlooked in the account.We are told that she never left the temple. She was 84 years old and spent all her days and nights fasting and praying. She probably knew Simeon, they probably talked together about the Messiah, sharing their hopes and fears.
Simeon teaches us about watching, waiting and believing. Anna gives us so much to aspire to. Never give up, never let go, never lose heart, there is always reason to hope no matter how futile it all seems. God taught Anna that he saved the best till last - she thought her life was nearly over, but that day she saw the Messiah and her life had just begun.
Today we can learn from these wonderful saints, two ordinary old people, yet extraordinary in faith. They teach us how to be watchful, prayerful, faithful, thankful, and like them we can rejoice in the light of Christ, the light that scatters the darkness of sin and death, and the light that leads us to eternal life.
Light is a powerful symbol because it shows us the way in the dark. Light helps us to find what we have lost. Light can also reveal what is wrong; it shows up dirt and damage. Light is also important to us as a warning. The revolving light of a lighthouse, keeping ships away from dangerous rocks; and the guiding cat’s eyes in the middle of the road. Light is a symbol of celebration, the coloured lights we put up at festivals, especially Christmas; and the candles on birthday cakes. John tells us that Jesus is the Light of the World, the true light who illuminates every human being at their birth. Jesus is the light who can guide us to the truth about God, and to the right path of life.
The candle flame is a symbol for Jesus the light of the world and a sign of our hope for peace amid the darkness of this pandemic. They express our fervent prayer for those who are ill or in need and they are lit to remember those who have died.
As we hold our lit candles this Candlemas, we come to a turning point in our symbolic journey through the Christian year. In the coming weeks, our journey will take us into Lent. Lent is often seen as a gloomy or dark time when we are waiting for spring, and we may be in withdrawal from chocolate and alcohol, but as Christians, we do not lose sight of the light. As John’s gospel tells us; the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.
As we gaze at our lighted candles let us recommit ourselves today to follow the light of Christ into the coming year with all that it will hold for each one of us and a commitment to hold the Christ light for those who need our love and our prayers.