Candlemass 2015 Sunday 1st February
I suspect that with many of the adverts on the TV at the moment to do with holidays and sunshine some of us may have started dreaming of where we may be spending some time in the summer? Days that will be filled with the warmth and the light of sunshine. No more dark grey days, no more cold driving rain, but rather just the warmth and brightness that drifts in to sultry evenings with a body which now glows.
Today, the feast of Candlemass is all about light and warmth. The light and warmth that fills our souls and bodies and minds, the light and warmth of God.
As we came into this temple today - we would have been like Simeon and Anna, who all those years ago entered the Temple of Jerusalem, in all its splendour - but also in its darkness ad its shadows. Nonetheless it was the focus for God's people, of his presence with them, of his fidelity to them. 'I will be your God'. To the temple they came in hope and expectation of their God, hoping, knowing that one day he would fulfil his promise to them and they would have their Messiah - his anointed one.
Simeon you will recall has been told that he will not see death until he has seen God's blessed one. That is why he would come in the darkness of the morning - waiting for the light of the new day, waiting expectantly for the light of the new dawn.
On that day, as Jesus was brought by Mary and Joseph to the temple, no doubt may others arrived with their first born sons too, Just as the law demanded of them and they would offer them to God. But today a moment that changes history was made, itself un-dramatic and unnoticed. No clouds parted, no great lights shone, no clear separation of light and darkness, just an ordinary couple and their baby son and old Simeon and Anna. Everyone else simply gets on with their business as usual.
Mary came for the rite of purification , and as Moses law prescribes, every firstborn male must be designated as holy to the Lord. They came to offer their sacrifice of a pair of turtle doves or two pigeons - hinting at the great sacrifice of the year, the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, when the high priest will take the blood of the lamb and enter the holy of holies so that all may be made clean, purified.
Simeon's waiting is over, Mary and Joseph's waiting is over, as he takes the child in his arms, for at last someone else sees and knows what is happening - it is as if scales have fallen from their eyes: Here Simeon is, holding the child and praising God, declaring that God's salvation has arrived, God's promise not just to Israel but to the whole world. This child is not just the light of God's chosen people, the Jews, but he is the light for the whole world; a light which burns more brightly than the sun, a light that kindles the fire in human hearts, a light that warms and cheers and consoles, a light that illuminates all things and can never be extinguished.
But also there are chilling words - this child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel and he will be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed - and, Simeon says, a sword will pierce your own soul too.
Today is a day which brings an end to our celebrations of the Nativity and begins to turn our thoughts towards the Passion and Holy Week. It is a pivotal day in our calendar. This light which will indeed be rejected, the fulfilment of all the covenants of the Temple - will indeed become the one whose blood is spilled for the redemption of all. God's light for all the world, with a mother who will share in that pain.
We may marvel today at the depth and accuracy of the discernment of Simeon and Anna, and feel that such sensitivity is more than we are capable of. But their closeness to God and their openness to his promptings offer a challenge to us all. It was a former Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, who once said, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t pray, they don’t.” The deeper our prayer life, the closer our walk with God, the more likely we are to be able to pick up the signs of God’s activity and intention. And while not many of us may be called to be “day and night in the Temple” as Anna and Simeon were, nevertheless all Christians are called to listen to God, and to take time to develop and deepen their relationship with him.
Bishop Stephen Cottrell writing from Anna's perspective at the end of this momentous day says this:
Now it is night again and I am waiting for the dawn of tomorrow. But it will not be the same. The sun will rise, but it will rise on a different world, a world into which a greater light has come.
This is the light we celebrate and proclaim, a light and warmth that will, if we but allow it, fill our souls and our bodies, our hearts and our minds. A light which will drive away all darkness and despair. The light of the new dawn, the light of the resurrection.