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.