Sermon for Candlemas: Epiphany 4 Year C, 30 January 2022
Readings: Malachi 3.1-5; Luke 2.22-40
Like Simeon, may I grow old in hope and in wonder.
Like Anna, may I be in love with you all my days.
May I be open to truth, open to surprises.
May I let your Spirit into my life.
May I let your justice change my behaviour.
May I live in the brightness of your joy.Ruth Burgess, ‘Hay and Stardust’ (2005)
Candlemas is one of those festivals in the church calendar which you either only know in the vaguest of terms, or you go all out to mark it. On this day, we commemorate the presentation of the newly-born Christ at the temple – our equivalent contemporary christian ritual might be a service of the thanksgiving for the birth of a child, in which a child is presented to the worshipping community and prayers of celebration are offered (though often families will instead to do this alongside a Christening).
This marks the end of the Epiphany season of revelations, and we take down the last of the Christmas decorations by treasuring away the nativity scenes until we need them again in Advent.
Candlemas is also a festival of light, and in some churches today people will bring the stubs of their old candles to light in prayer, and will take home candles which have been blessed for use through the year ahead. The twelfth-century abbot Guerric of Igny says this about the tradition:
“Today as we bear in our hands lighted candles, how can we not fail to remember that venerable old man Simeon who on this day held the child Jesus in his arms […] and declared him to be ‘the light to enlighten the nations.’”Guerric of Igny
If Epiphany has been a season of revelation, then today we celebrate Christ revealed as the Light of the World. This is a ritual of hope and expectation in the imminent changes that he brings in our lives and to the world.
And I imagine that change was on the minds of Anna and Simeon as they prayed in the temple. Faithful in their discipline and dedicated in their obedience to the Lord, they were waiting in eager expectation that they would see the herald of change in their lifetime. They believed that the redemption of God’s children was at hand. As in our reading from Malachi, they trusted that the Messiah was coming and that he would bring with him a time of restoration and purification to righteousness.
For me, the songs of these elders bring to mind Psalm 27 in which the psalmist sings of hopeful expectation of the fulfilment of God’s promises:
And if Anna and Simeon’s response to these promises was dedicated preparation through prayer and worship – active waiting with eager anticipation – then their reward was in meeting Christ and in him revelation of the changes to come: the Light of the World now present and active among us.
For them, change was not something to fear, but something to embrace like the child they gathered into their arms that day.
Candlemas, then, is about change: the changes that Christ will bring as the Messiah (proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favour); and the changes in our hearts as we embrace all that he offers and represents, following his call to be like him and do his will.
Jesus Christ is the light of the world, and he will make us into lights in the world.
We are facing a lot of changes in our churches as we respond to those that have already happened around us in our society. It’s scary to accept that the patterns which we have so treasured may now need to be let go – laid down as we embrace new ways of being the Body of Christ in service to our communities. But just as Simeon and Anna saw the coming of change in their lifetime and rejoiced, so we too can welcome the changes that will transform our communities as we hold Christ tight in our embrace.
And just as Christ calls all of us to bear his light in the world, we are all called to participate in the changes as they come – by doing so they are not death but rebirth, not an end, but a beginning.
There will be a multitude of feelings in this community about the coming changes: fear, anxiety, hope, joy, excitement, frustration, anger… all of these are valid, and must be part of the change itself. By participating in the process and offering ourselves to shape and be shaped, we embrace and are embraced by Christ who brings light to all all things.
I’d like to conclude with these further words from Abbot Guerric:
Come to him and be enlightened
that you do not so much bear lamps as become them,
shining within yourselves and radiating light to your neighbours.
May there be a lamp in your heart, in your hand and in your mouth:
let the lamp in your heart shine for yourself,
the lamp in your hand and mouth shine for your neighbours.
The lamp in your heart is a reverence for God inspired by faith;
the lamp in your hand is the example of a good life;
and the lamp in your mouth is the words of consolation you speak.Guerric of Igny
You may like to light a candle as you reflect on this feast of Candlemas, praying:
Ruth Burgess, Hay and Stardust, Wild Goose: 2005
‘A reading from a sermon of Guerric of Igny’, Celebrating the Saints, ed. Robert Atwell, Canterbury Press: 2016, p.54