Candlemas Sermon Year B 2015

Luke 2. 22-40
“Then Simeon blessed them and said , “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel ….and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
I wonder how many visitors to our cathedral over the past few weeks have been puzzled by the continued presence of our Christmas crib? I hope it hasn’t upset too many who subscribe to the old superstition about the consequences of letting Christmas decorations remain after twelfth night! (I’ve come across one or two of them in a previous parish) But our crib isn’t a left-over decoration-

Far from it! It is a reminder that throughout January we have been reflecting upon, and celebrating, the birth of Jesus. It’s been 40 days since His birth and now he is brought to the temple in our celebration named, Candlemas.
Now, light is a universal symbol. It expresses important meanings in both secular and religious life all over the world. Candles are lit for birthdays, fireworks set off for celebrations and lamps burnt to remember the departed. Hindus and Sikhs celebrate Divali as a festival of light. Jews keep Hanukah by lighting candles for the eight days of the festival.
And light has an important significance to us also. Light is not just as a sign of joy or a practical way of expressing hope. It is linked explicitly to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ and so for us is a symbol of Jesus himself.
Isaiah speaks of the Messiah as ‘a light to the Gentiles,’ Zechariah looks forward to the time when ‘the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.’
Writing of the mystery of Christ’s birth, John takes up the image: ‘The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.’
So it is hardly surprising that Simeon draws on Old Testament imagery when he recognises the child Jesus as the Messiah, speaking of him in those lovely words we know as the Nunc dimittis as “a light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”
These powerful words are fulfilled in Jesus’ mission to bring healing and hope, to dispel doubt and to overcome sin and death. So it is not difficult to see how this was worked out in his own life and ministry. He brought sight to the blind, and in so doing describes himself as ‘the light of the world.’
But it is much harder for us to discern how his light continues to shine in our own world, we are overwhelmed every day in the media by images of war, oppression, famine and disease.
We need to ask, are the candles we light today merely pretty decorations, but without the power to overcome the darkness that surrounds us?
Or do they symbolize something much deeper , more powerful and more challenging?
Jesus calls us to bring light into the darkness of our world. St Paul takes up this image, ‘The Lord has commanded us saying, “I have sent you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” ‘ Like the apostles, we are called not simply to gaze at his light and draw comfort from it, but to receive it in ourselves and reflect it to others.
But we must be aware that this can be a costly undertaking.
It wasn’t for nothing that Simeon give that chilling warning to Mary “And a sword will pierce your soul too.”
I wonder how often, old Simeon’s insight and warning bring a chill to Mary’s heart in the next 30 years as she watched her Son “grow and become strong, & filled with wisdom ” Like any other mother, she must have wanted to protect her son from harm when he so often confronted the powers of darkness.
So often, we too can shy away from the challenges involved in bringing his light into the darkness of our own age.
But Jesus still comes to bring the light of God’s love into the dark places of our world and he calls us to work with him, to dedicate our lives to serving him in serving the needs of his wounded world.
And that is always a challenge- for our human instinct is to protect ourselves from the inconvenience, difficulties and dangers of life, to turn a blind-eye to a society that seems to be spiralling out of control and wash our hands of those whose lives seem beyond our powers to influence or help. We turn our light away, and protect it for ourselves rather passing it onto those in true darkness.
May this feast of Candlemas remind us that embracing the light of Christ is not primarily about lighting candles;- it is about shedding light on the dark places we find and continuing the work that Christ started.
May your candles be more than a source of light, but a symbol of Christ, the light of the world, and a sign of your calling to carry that light to others.

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Candlemas thought for the day

One of the churches in Bro Ardudwy have decided that we priests preach too long, and it makes their service too long. So we have agreed to cut them down a little. So here is part of the ‘Thought for the Day’ I gave them last Sunday.

I’ve always seen Candlemas (as well as the presentation, and the old tradition of blessing the candles) as one of those hinge points in our calendar, we are in a time were we are looking from the crib, to the cross. Lent and Easter will soon be upon us!

We are at the end of our Christmas season today and we hear in that great reading about Simeon, ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for the glory to your people Israel’

Jesus, the light of the world.

Today is about light. About Jesus being the light in the world and our calling to be people of light…

We are the body of Christ in this world, we are called to shine light into darkness. We are called to make sure the world know that the light still shines.

Sometimes it may feel as if the hope of Israel – and our own hopes too – have been lost, extinguished by the harshness of the world we see around us, and the cruelty we see in the news each day…but the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.

We are called to shine light into darkness. We are called to make sure the world know that the light still shines, but how can we do this, how do we shine?

Well…. I believe that whenever we choose hope and whenever we proclaim salvation we live as children of light. Whenever we live by the fruits of the spirit, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, we are lights. Whenever we opt for what is good and true, and when we show by our lives that we take seriously our commission and the commands of God, we, each one of us, acts as a candle.

Disturbed into action

Today we celebrated Candlemas in many of our churches, well… The Presentation of Christ. There was no blessing of candles, but there was celebration for the end of this Christmas/ epiphany season. I am also quite grateful to be able to take down my decorations. However much I love them, they do look a little sorry at this stage of the year.

I took two services this morning, a standard Eucharist, and a family service. For the standard service I looked at the song of Simeon, how familiar it is in the evensong service and how lovely and reassuring evensong can be, especially in places like cathedrals where usually there is no participation required from the individuals in the congregation.

I posted on twitter the other day: “@sjj_poppy: We can turn worship into an escape from the world, Simeon and Anna were in the temple not to escape, but seeking God’s presence in the world”

I was thinking especially about some of the congregations we take care of, for how many of them has church become an escape? Escape from the world and all it’s troubles. We create (or try to create) for ourselves a world that appears constant and unchanging, where the old ways are the only way of doing things. John Betjeman creates this image in his poem which starts ‘Across the wet November night’.

But it’s true that these characters who live and work within the temple at Jerusalem were not there to escape the world, but to seek God’s presence in the world.

Is our worship meant to be only a reassuring retreat from the world? Is it not meant to disturb us?

If we read and reconnect with our liturgies and scriptures, we do not find a comfortable escape. We find a place that challenge us. We find a calling from God which cannot be ignored. When we are confronted with the awesomeness and wonder of God and when we consider the reality of God, are we not drawn and called to action and to actively seek out our God? Not sit back and escape these realities?

Confronting God is not always comforting experience, for Simeon he knew what this meant, hence his words to Mary “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Our image of the meek and mild Jesus does not match our knowledge of the disturbing force can be. For Simeon and Anna their disturbance was also met with joy. For others they are met with the reality of themselves.

We know the affect that Jesus has in our lives. Look at the early church in the acts of the apostles, not much comfort and retreating from the world going on there!!! These activities, and the motivation of the people came from their encounters, and experience of Jesus. They allowed themselves to be disturbed into action and their lives were never the same again.

We are called to be people of The Way, a pilgrim people, not holding onto the past, not apart from the world, but moving on and through the world.

I told my congregation that if we are not disturbed, then the church will die and if we are not moved by our encounters with God then our churches will become monuments to a past ages which our future generations will fail to understand.

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation”. Luke 2:29-30

May we be one day be blessed with Simeon’s peace, with his knowledge that he has done all that the Lord has required. May we not miss out on our opportunities to know that there is more to life then the here and now.