100 000 flickering lights and rising! Each reminds us of a person precious to God and their families. Each reminds us that life is fragile, that flames are swiftly blown out. Each reminds us there is light and hope in our darkness.
The numbers of those who have lost their lives in the UK during this pandemic are much greater than those recorded. Only those who received tests are recorded. On top there are all those who would have survived other ailments, such as cancers if we were not in a crisis. Our nation is suffering unimaginable shock and grief.
This Sunday we should have been celebrating Candlemas in our building. Since we were not able to enjoy our Christmas nativity figures for long over Christmas, I intended to keep them up for this celebration as other churches do and fill the church with candlelight and colour.
Candlemas was so named because it was the festival when parishioners brought all the candles they were going to use during the year to the church to be blessed. It symbolised leaving the depths and darkness of winter and moving towards Spring.
It officially brings the festivities of Christmas and Epiphany to an end as we look towards Lent and focus on fasting, self discipline and sacrifice in preparation for Good Friday and Easter.
Candlemas and our candles remind us that life is made up of darkness and light, good and evil, life and death.
Each time we light a candle in memory of a loved one in church we remember that they were a combination of all those. Sometimes we remember them with a smile and sometimes memories of their death pierce our hearts and fill us with sadness.
When we light our candles as Christians we are doing more than just remembering. We light with hope that loved ones are still alive in Christ and that having passed through death to resurrection they shine brightly once again.
The gospel reading for Candlemas is always the presentation of Christ in the temple, found only in Luke’s gospel.
The passage reminds us that Jesus is like us. Like every other Jewish baby he was subject to Jewish law. He was taken to the Jerusalem temple so Mary could be purified after giving birth and for Jesus to be redeemed under the law.
Exodus 13 states that every first-born male whether human or animal, “belongs” to the Lord. While clean animals would be sacrificed, first-born sons needed to be redeemed which involved the payment of five shekels to the priesthood.
Jesus like us needed to be redeemed, to be bought back from God.
Whereas Mary and Joseph paid money, Jesus paid the cost for our redemption by giving his life
Luke emphasises that “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord.” Jesus was set apart as holy long before he was conceived. He was the lamb sacrificed before the foundation of the world. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit
Baby Jesus was being presented to the Lord in his Father’s house as God’s son, holy, and set apart for him.
Instead of bringing a lamb and pigeon to be sacrificed as a burnt offering for Mary’s purification, Mary and Joseph brought a poor family’s offering of two pigeons. They may have been poor in terms of earthly wealth but in their arms they carried the creator of everything that exists, riches beyond our imagining.
Their lamb was with them. Jesus was the lamb whose sacrifice would take away not only the sins of Mary but also the sins of the whole world.
Two faithful, elderly people in the temple recognized this. While Simeon and Anna were waiting for our salvation to be completed in Jesus they continued to pray and attend worship.
Simeon had been promised by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. He recognised that this tiny baby, less than 2 months old was the one anointed to bring salvation not only to the Jews but to the Gentiles also. Who would think it, not a superhero not a great prophet but a tiny baby anointed by God?
Simeon took the baby in his arms and praised God, aches and pains forgotten, the affects of years of oppression and waiting under Roman rule gone.
Simeon had been a faithful, prayerful servant of God. Now he was going to receive all he had longed and hoped for. His waiting had come to an end and his life’s work was completed. He was ready to die.
He prayed those great words that we pray each Thursday. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;” Because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross we too may die in peace.
Simeon recognized that his salvation, the forgiveness and peace he received through Jesus was available for all people. Jesus would die for the sins of the whole world. The Jewish authorities, the priests and even Jesus’ own disciples didn’t recognize this. Simeon and Anna did.
Jesus is our light in the darkness, “a light to lighten the Gentiles” and the glory of his people Israel.
Jesus, the light of the world is our hope in our dark world today.
As Simeon prophesied he saw the cross and the sword that would pierce the side of Jesus and pierce Mary’s soul. It is awful to lose a child. Mary followed Jesus to the cross and suffered as she watched him die.
Amazingly, in a sexist society, Anna an elderly widowed woman who was married for only seven years, was a prophet and preacher in the temple precincts. She had been carrying out her ministry there, possibly for over 60 years, fasting and praying and never leaving the temple grounds. She also began to praise God and speak about Jesus to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Both before and after seeing baby Jesus she shared her faith with all who were looking and waiting for God.
Our grief over the loss of loved ones must never blot out the joy of spending time with them.
I listened to some of those who survived the holocaust and watched them light candles in memory of their murdered loved ones. I was impressed by their determination to live in the light and absorb the beauty around them. They looked at photographs of loved ones when life was hopeful. The suffering and death they had seen could not be imagined, spoken of or understood so must be consigned to the back of their minds. The pandemic and holocaust shine a light on much which is wrong in us and our world.
Because Anna’s suffered she was able to spend her life ministering to the poor and the vulnerable in the temple precincts.
It was through Christ’s suffering and death that Jesus became our light.
Our lives and world will continue to be places of darkness and light, good and evil, life and death.
As we move towards our deaths, have we like Simeon and Anna found peace with God through the sacrifice of Jesus who bore the judgement of God upon a sinful world so we might be forgiven? Are we ready to die, to go to meet with God?
Have we the eyes to see God’s redeeming work in the world around us, and the faith to proclaim it? Are we lights in the darkness, fragile yet strong in light of Christ’s flame knowing that we move from death to resurrection life.
As we wait and pray let us trust in God’s goodness today and his faithfulness tomorrow.
Lord Jesus Christ,
light of the nations and glory of Israel:
make your home among us,
and present us pure and holy
to your heavenly Father,
your God, and our God.