Candlemas - things are happening, changing and the signs of transformation are everywhere!
“…my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation!” (Luke 2: 30-32)
We are blessed to live in a very beautiful country and we have stunning local countryside here in Surrey. Last Saturday we went as a family for a long walk over Chobham Common, splashing through the muddy puddles in wellies. It was wintry, with no signs of new life, no buds on the trees or bulbs springing forth – we now have wonderful snow drops but 10 days ago there was nothing hopeful to be seen. The weather started dull, dank, cold, and then while walking, I noticed on the horizon a glimmer of warm light. Then suddenly, as if a master artist began adding colour to a black and white sketch, the sun broke through the clouds and a warm, yellow light cascaded over the hill. In a moment, everything was transformed by the light as the winter sun cut through the clouds. What had seemed life less, dark and dead was renewed by this golden light and it suddenly felt like spring. Something new was happening, things were changing and the signs of that transformation were there. Of course, it is easy to walk in darkness and not see the signs of new life and light which are all around us. Our candles tonight may remind us that Jesus is the light of life – that overcomes the darkness of this world.
Today’s Gospel has similar imagery with the identity of Jesus revealed like a light overcoming darkness, transforming all by his unmistakable, holy light – and along with it the lives of two quite extraordinary people. Luke sketches the outline of a picture and in the process reveals Jesus as the promised Messiah and long-awaited Lord and the people of Israel had to wait a long time for that promised day. Representing them first is Simeon, who knew all about waiting. He was a devout Jew who had served in the Temple for years, waiting for the day when God would finally comfort Israel. We are told the Holy Spirit rested upon him; perhaps that is why he had lived to such a great age – he was certainly blessed and close to God in prayer. There is an even greater blessing which is about to be bestowed upon him, and Anna too, the second representative, who also longs for the redemption of Israel.
These two servants of the Lord live in hope, that suffering (which had been a way of life under the Roman occupation) may come to an end, just as God had promised the people through the prophets of old. These too servants of God lived in hope – the long for the light to overcome their darkness and the challenges of their age; and it was certainly worth the wait. They watch for the signs that something new is happening and in God’s time they find all is revealed in a small child who one day is brought into the Temple; for God’s kingdom of justice, peace, love and salvation had dawned.
Yet the dawning light of Christ, presented in the temple just 40 days old, is revealed with both glory and challenge. Simeon sings his wonderful hymn of praise, the Nunc dimittis, recognising that something quite incredible has happened, for his patience has been worthwhile: “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.” (Luke 2: 29-32) Mary and Joseph are right to be amazed by what this old man has to say about their baby boy, but Simeon is not finished. Unusually for the time, he then addresses Mary directly; “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2: 34-35) This child is to ‘fall and rise’ and he will do it for the sake of many people, proclaims Simeon. Indeed, Mary will stand and watch the agony, experienced as only a Mother can, like a sword through her own heart, from the foot of the cross of Calvary. Then, if this message is not enough for one visit, Simeone shares a significant revelation about our Lord: that the thoughts of the hearts of many will be revealed, for nothing is hidden from God. Simeon tells us that Jesus knows everything!
No doubt Mary and Joseph were astonished, and we should be too, but looking back to the Old Testament the signs were already there. But there is more for Jesus unites heaven and earth, God and People, the Creator and the Created in one God-moment, he Incarnation. Simeon and Anna waited in the temple for that plan to be revealed, for they trusted that God has a plan. Simeon warns Joseph and Mary that God’s plan will turn their world upside down because of a new relationship, which is open to all people for all time and eternity and achieved by the cross and overcoming death with new life; yes, the transformation of all that is dark with the brilliance of creative light. God has a plan – what is our part in it?
You, like me are probably longing for that spring day, when the light of change will transform our world, our nation, this community of Thorpe. When we will no longer be fearful of a virus, scared of mutations and sickness, when mourning will be over, and a new day will begin. Simeon and Anna waited years for that, and we long for that new day too. But, with such transformation comes the recognition that God has a plan – we are part of the Jesus story too, and what we will be, as individuals and united as a church has not yet been fully revealed either!
So, friends in faith, do we choose to be a part of God’s plan for the salvation of the world, to see the darkness of this age transformed by the saving light of Jesus? It is up to us to decide – it is our choice. Hopefully, like Simeon and Anna before us, we are willing to remain faithful and serve in this Temple, and in the world around us as we await greater revelation and in the sure confidence of the Gospel, which illuminates our lives. But don’t misunderstand, there is more required of us than just faithfulness and patience. God’s plan for our time involves each one of us, in our own unique, wonderful way! We all have a role in God’s plan, our own vocation and calling. God longs for us to take our place in his narrative, his unfolding plan for the whole world and yes for this beautiful, Medieval Church in Thorpe Village. And there is no virus, no challenge that can overcome the light of Christ which shines from this place, and from our hearts into the lives of all we meet. Last weekend I experienced the sun’s light transform the Chobham common – you too may have experienced something similar. So too, the coming Saviour is revealed as the light to the nations, that God’s very presence, his plan for each of us is being revealed now, today. Let the light of Christ dawn a new in your heart this Candlemas, that you may be strengthened in your new relationship with God through Jesus, our Lord. Amen.
Father Damian Harrison-Miles, January 2021