Address: Ann Robinson
Today would normally be a benefice service at Tixover, our beautiful church in a field without electricity so wonderfully lit with candles. A very appropriate setting for Candlemas which is officially on Tuesday. This is the day we remember Christ’s presentation in the Temple. By the middle of the 5th century the custom of observing the festival with lighted candles had been introduced, and the name Candlemas developed from this custom. In the Western church, Pope Sergius I (687–701) instituted the festival in Rome. It is also the official end of Christmas, with the decorations down and the tree trunk bound together to form a cross.
Mary and Joseph took their child to the Temple to give thanks. They took the offering required of two young pigeons, the offerings of a poor family. Simeon and Anna were there and overjoyed to see the baby whom they recognized would be the Saviour for whom they had waited. Waiting is something that is very difficult to do. We have perhaps learnt to be a little more patient in the past few months when we have been locked down. We have waited for the daily briefings; we have waited for the news of the tragic death total and we have waited for the vaccine.
Many people wait in darkness, loneliness, feeling lost and without help. Doesn’t that present a dreadful picture of the life that Jewish people lived then and so many live now? But then Jesus came into the world bringing life and light.
We know very little about Simeon except the important point that he was very devout with a strong faith. He was not part of the Temple hierarchy but spent much of his time worshipping and was there when Mary and Joseph brought their special baby. He must have felt unbounded joy when he held Jesus and realised who he was. Simeon had waited all his life for this and now was ready to go, giving us the beautiful Nunc Dimmitis.
Anna was a widow and would have been expected to remarry and have children. As a widow she was a liability to the family as they would have to feed and clothe her. She had spent most of her life in the Temple and was a very godly woman. She would have spent her life in the Court of Women as the inner courts of the Temple were only for men. Many Jews believed that the Messiah would be a warrior king but there was also a group known as “the Quiet in the Land” who waited without violence, without power and without conflict but constant in prayer and watchfulness. Both Simeon and Anna were part of this group and they never lost the hope that they would see the fulfilment of God’s promise.
There is a great deal of waiting in the readings we heard at Christmas and the one we heard this morning. Mary waited for the birth of her new baby, having accepted the word of the angel; Simeon and Anna waited for the coming of the new covenant between God and his people. They also all followed God and trusted him. Do we trust God with such fervour and humility?
Simeon was full of wonder when he recognised the Christ Child but had a severe warning for Mary. “And sorrow, like a sharp sword, will break your own heart”. Joseph was much older than Mary and would die before the horror of the road to the Cross became apparent but Mary followed the whole path with her God-given son. She must have often thought of those words spoken when her baby was so small.
We are at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox and this year especially we are looking towards the future after so much darkness caused by the pandemic. I remember us saying during the first lockdown that at least it wasn’t winter with the dark nights and snow and frost but things didn’t quite work out the way we hoped and we have found ourselves in precisely that situation. But now we are heading towards the light.
Light is important. It plays a central role in health, communication, energy, education, agriculture, design and much more. This whole world looks beautiful due to colours. But in darkness, we see no colours. This is because all the colours in this world are possible only due to light. We only have to remember the last power cut to know how much we rely on light especially those of us who do not like the dark!
There are many similes and metaphors about light and darkness but it is not difficult to understand how these have grown up. What are our lives like? Lived in the shadows or in the light? Christ brought light into the world but we have the option to accept it or reject it. Holman Hunt’s picture of Christ the Light of the World depicts an overgrown with no means of opening it from the outside. We are invited to open the door to Christ and let his light flood into our lives.
I said at the beginning that we are now finished with Christmas but that is the beginning of our story of faith. Now we can look backwards or go forward with Christ on the road to Easter, the harshness of Lent, the desperate cruelty of the Cross leading to the glorious light of the Resurrection. Candlemas is celebrated on Tuesday so perhaps we could put candles in our windows and think quietly about the events at the Temple all those years ago when that special baby was recognised as the Light of the World and accept that light with its boundless hope into our own lives and know that Christ walks with us each step of the road ahead, whether in the light or the dark, but always with Christ’s light shining through the darkness giving us hope of the glorious life to come.