'Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.’ Luke 2:28-33
Brothers and sisters, ever since I was a boy I have enjoyed reading. Secret Seven, Famous Five, Biggles, and anything else I could get my hands on. I would read in the car, read in the bath, read in bed. I would read anywhere, for it allowed me to enter my own little world, and go on great adventures. As a general rule, my parents encouraged my reading, but there would come that time each day when they would tell me to put my book down and go to sleep. The book would be placed by my bed, and the lights would be switched off. Without the lights, of course, I was helpless to read and I just had to go to sleep. Occasionally, I would try and read in the dark, and perhaps that is why I have glasses to this day; straining to read those little words. What I needed was light. Light in order to see. Light in order to read. Light in order to enter the world of my story. Without light I was in darkness. And in darkness I was lost. What I needed was a candle…but candles are banned for kids, especially in bed!
Today, we celebrate Candlemas, a feast which helps us to answer those questions. Candlemas is the day when the Church remembers the presentation of Christ in the temple. If we are to make sense of this great feast, and to see the light it brings, then there are one or two things we need to know about the Jewish people. And, so, we will begin this story, long before our gospel reading, when God rescued His people out of Egypt. The people marched out of Egypt. They had been rescued by God - through Moses - not just for their own sake, but for the sake of others. The people who had been saved, were called to live holy lives, so that they would be a light to the nations. If the saved people, kept their end of the bargain, and lived as light, lived holy lives in a dark world, then God would live with them; God would live in their temple. And there were moments when this plan seemed to be working. When David, and then Solomon were on the throne nations came to the temple bringing gifts. But, it didn’t last very long. The people soon extinguished their own light. Led by Solomon, they soon started living like all the other nations. They soon started living in darkness. And true to His word, when the people stopped living God’s way, God stopped living in the temple.
But God hadn’t given up just yet. At the end of the Old Testament, one of God’s prophets says: ‘See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.’ God says, to all those Jewish people who still trust Him, ‘I am coming, and I will come back to my house, back to the temple. The candle will be lit again, the light will shine again.’ And then there is four-hundred and fifty years of silence! Four-hundred and fifty years between the end of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament! Four-hundred and fifty years of darkness! When will God return? When will the candle be lit? When will the light shine? Now our Gospel reading, Luke chapter 2: ‘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. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.’ Jesus had been born, and when Mary and Joseph—following the Law’s commands—took him to the temple, the old man Simeon—the one who had been waiting, for the light to shine, for the candle to be lit—rushes over to Jesus, and starts singing!: ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ Simeon (looking at Jesus) proclaims the most amazing story ever told! God has come back to His people. God in the form of a baby has returned to His temple, and now Simeon can die in peace. And now that God has returned, now that God is present in the midst of His people, what does this mean? It means that the mission of God to reach the nations, to witness to them via a holy life, is back on track. The light was back on, the candle was lit, and now, through the holy life of Jesus, people might again understand the Scriptures, might come and worship the God of Israel.
But what does any of this have to do with us? Well, God’s plan in Jesus, was that He would again be followed and served by a holy people. That the light of Jesus, would light other candles, and that each candle, each person, would be a light in their own little part of the world. That is why for centuries people coming to a Candlemas service, would return home carrying a candle, and that candle would shine in their homes, for the rest of the year. That candle symbolically would remind each one of those Christians, that they were to be a light in a dark world. That by how they lived, and what they said, they were to be a light to their neighbours. That they were to witness—to burn brightly—and by so doing, people would turn to God. Your job, is to be a little light, a small candle in the darkness. That people might see your good deeds and give glory to God. Today’s feast then is a reminder to you, that if Jesus has come and been a light in your darkness, then your job is not to hide away, and keep that light to yourself. Your job is to be a small candle—a little light—in the darkness. That people might see your good deeds and give glory to God. Let us do just that. Amen (from Fr Mike).