This week we celebrate Candlemas as in Luke’s gospel we read how Mary and Joseph present the infant Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem and in keeping with Jewish Law, offer a sacrifice of two young pigeons or a pair of turtle doves. Jesus, the first born male of this seemingly ordinary couple was to be designated holy to the Lord. Mary would have been taken through the Purification Ritual that new mothers would have been expected to go through, marking the end of her isolation period after giving birth and allowing her once again to take part in religious services.
Regularly serving at the temple at this time was a man called Simeon. Simeon was a devout Jew, righteous, obedient to God, patiently waiting for the promises of the Old Testament to be fulfilled in the form of a saviour for the people of Israel. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit rested upon him, so we can suppose that Simeon, as he went about his ordinary daily duties in the temple, was calm in mind enough to be aware of the movement of the Spirit in his life. Having been told previously by Spirit that he would not see death before he witnessed the Lord’s Messiah, Simeon perseveres in his service and patiently allows himself to be guided.
On this particular day however, Simeon wasn’t inside the temple but he was prompted by the Spirit to enter. He did so, and when inside he found the couple, Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus. The moment the parents brought the child Jesus to Simeon so that the customary rituals could take place, Simeon just knew. He knew that this child he was holding would be a light for God’s people and not just the people of Israel but a light for the whole world!
What happens next is sad in some ways and joyous in others. Simeon goes on to explain to Mary that her son is destined to play a part in the lives of others that will be opposed, that he will reveal the inner thoughts of many and that she will feel her soul pierced with the sorrow that comes as a result of knowing her son’s true identity but who will be rejected by all.
Mary and Joseph were amazed at what they were hearing but surely they must have felt very shocked by what Simeon was telling them? It is incredibly overwhelming if you dwell too long on the idea of being responsible for another human being, let alone this! What on earth were they to make of it?...What did it all mean?...For them?...For their child?... For the world?
Then enters Anna, an elderly lady, only married for seven years before she became a widow, and who now at the age of 84 dedicates her life to prayer and fasting, never leaving the temple.
She too waits patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled, going about her daily life at the temple. When she hears what Simeon is saying, she too experiences the magnitude of what is unfolding and feels compelled to praise God and share the news to those she knows who are also waiting for their Messiah, that he is here. The light is here, with us now.
Once everything that was required by Jewish Law was completed, Mary and Joseph returned to their home town of Nazareth. A journey of many days and many miles and one that must have felt very different to their travels towards the Temple in Jerusalem at the start of their trip.
Can you think of a time when you set out to do something or meet someone or maybe you received some news that changed how you saw your life or your relationship to the world or others, in a matter of minutes? And when you returned from that event, or place, or conversation you just knew on a deep level that nothing (yourself included) would ever be the same again? Would this have been Mary and Joseph’s experience on the journey home, as this revelation started to sink in?
However extraordinary the events occurring this day in the Temple, this is a story of ordinary people of all ages - Infant, young adult, middle age and elderly, all going about their lives in patient service to God and also in just living life as was expected of them at the time. The interesting thing here too, was what they had in common: patience, perseverance and responsiveness to what was needed from them at each moment.
In the ordinary acts of their everyday lives, the light that had been promised had come into the world, the light to overcome any darkness imaginable. In their frustrations of daily life, the expectations and the limits, they worked hard to listen for the Spirit’s prompting and allowed themselves to be guided. As Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna did that day in the temple, if we acknowledge, embrace and rejoice in the light that we find in our everyday lives (we may have to look a bit harder at the moment but it still exists, I promise you), we will find the patience, perseverance and responsiveness needed to get through the darkness of this time because Jesus wasn’t just their light, he is our light too.