03 Feb Candlemas Reflections
An unfolding of the Nunc Dimittis
Thanks be to God, I have lived to see this day.
God’s promise is fulfilled, and my duty done.
At last you have given me peace,
for I have seen with my own eyes
the revelation you have prepared for all peoples,
a light to the world in its darkness,
the glory of all who serve your love.
(From Day by Day by Jim Cotter)
Candlemas is known by various names. The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ; the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Feast of the Holy Encounter.
Judaism’s purity laws required a sacrifice 40 days after a birth. Birth is a messy business and cleanliness in many of the ancient practices was preserved by Laws and marked by careful ritual.
Life is messy. Even without Covid-19, so often things do not go to plan
The world is messy. There are things going on that make our hearts bleed.
I am messy. We all have things we would like to straighten out.
So much is messy that we can readily recognise the desire to do something to help with the mess. The Feast of the Purification, with its scene of Mary and Joseph coming to the Temple to do what was required to handle the messiness is something we can all identify with.
The Law also required an offering to redeem the firstborn son. The first of everything – crops, cows, sheep – was to be given to God (see Exodus 34). To keep it back, an appropriate offering had to be made instead. And, there is so much joy around a birth that to give something to say, “Thank you” seems entirely appropriate – but not gift could ever by as precious as the baby is.
It is so hard to give God the first of everything. Time gets swallowed up in busy-ness or exhaustion. Attention is taken up with worry about this or fretting about that. Money never goes as far as it should.
We would like to do something to fix that too. Get our priorities straight. Feel less of a failure. Do things like we think we are supposed to. We’d like to do enough. The Feast of the Presentation, with Mary and Joseph offering to God what they can is a gentle reminder that saying “Thank you” can be offering enough. It can be a sacrifice at times.
The Feast of the Holy Encounter helps us even more. As Simeon takes the baby in his arms and looks down into the face of the God he has worshipped all his life; as Anna bursts out with joy that the Messiah has come, everything turns around. No longer is this a moral tale about us giving what we can to God. We are not the one doing the presenting here. It is God who encounters us; it is not that we have to find God, or placate God, or put things right with God. God has turned everything on its head. The divine has become human, the immortal has been born, the ancient of days is a 6 week old baby. The light of Christ has come into the world and we see and follow.
Candlemas marks the turning point of the Christian Year. Not just because is falls as the first signs of Spring are often in the air – snowdrops appearing, some hints of warmer, and lengthening, days. It is the point where we stop; looking back on the celebrations of Jesus’ coming at Christmas and looking forward, moving towards Jesus’ passion. We turn from birth towards death and resurrection. At this pivot point in the year we see all the mess and muddle and failure that is to come in the life of any new baby, and for Jesus in particular. But it is frames with light. The light of hope sung by Christmas angels; the light of resurrection in an Easter dawn. Because God became incarnate we do not journey though the mess alone. Because Jesus was raised we know the mess is not that last word. At this pivot point of the year, we – marked by the cross at our baptism – take up our cross and follow…but we travel from light to light…our candles represent very God for us. Lighten our darkness…
Touch the world lightly, use the earth gently,
nourish the life of the world in our care:
gift of great wonder, ours to surrender
trust for the children tomorrow will bear.
We who endanger, who create hunger
agents of death for all creature that live
we who would foster clouds of disaster,
God of our planet, forestall and forgive!
Let there be greening, birth from the burning,
water that blesses and air that is sweet,
health in God’s garden, hope in God’s children,
regeneration that peace will complete
God of all living, God of all loving
God of the seedling the snow and the sun,
teach us, deflect us, Christ reconnect us,
using us gently and making us one.
Ely Cathedral choir sing Lux Aurumque (Whitacre) – with 7000 candles!
Calida gravisque pura velut aurum (warm and heavy as pure gold)
Et canunt angeli molliter (and the angels sing softly)
modo natum. (To the new-born baby.)
God of Anna and Simeon,
whose law makes known the gift of life,
whose love exposes our hardness of heart:
by your Spirit,
may we receive your faithful word
to Gentile and to Jew
and know your reconciling presence
offered for all the world;
through Jesus Christ, the Light and the Glory of God.
Father, here we bring to an end our celebration
of the Saviour’s birth.
Help us, in whom he has been born,
to live his life that has no end.
Here we have offered the Church’s sacrifice of praise.
Help us, who have received the bread of life,
to be thankful for your gift.
Here we have rejoiced with faithful Simeon and Anna.
Help us, who have found the Lord in his temple,
to trust in your eternal promises.
Here we have greeted the Light of the world.
Help us, who now extinguish these candles,
never to forsake the light of Christ.
Here we now stand near the place of baptism.
Help us, who are marked with the cross,
to share the Lord’s death and resurrection.
Here we turn from Christ’s birth to his passion.
Help us, for whom Lent is near,
to enter deeply into the Easter mystery.
Here we bless one another in your name.
Help us, who now go in peace,
to shine with your light in the world.
Thanks be to God!