Wednesday 2 February 2022: Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Following the Light
Malachi 3:1-5; Luke 2:22-40
Context: a Eucharistic service attended by about 20 adults, made up of the monastic community and retreat guests, along with local ‘regulars.’ Mostly well-educated and with an interest in monastic spirituality
Aim: to encourage openness to God in our lives
Today’s feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple is often also called Candlemas, stemming from a tradition whereby the candles to be used in church for the coming year would be blessed on this day; it was this aspect that I used to focus on when I taught classes of seven and eight-year-olds about this event from Jesus’ life. We would make ‘stained glass’ candles from black sugar paper and white, orange and yellow tissue paper – simple, effective, and a good reminder of a phrase they heard often: ‘Jesus is the light of the world’.
This was a familiar phrase for the children, as it was the response to the question they were asked at the beginning of almost every school assembly: ‘why do we light this candle?’ Candles and the light they symbolise are both a familiar and important part of our worship. Some versions of the Exultet, often sung at the Easter Vigil, include a line giving thanks to the bees for the wax that has created the Paschal Candle.
Light is a potent symbol of so many things: resurrection, life, healing, joy, surprise, dawn, newness. The opportunities for exploration and meditation are almost endless, but I’d like to focus today on just two aspects of light: its power to illuminate and its power to guide.
AN ILLUMINATING LIGHT
Have you ever seen an illuminated manuscript, or a picture of one, such as the Lindisfarne Gospels, or the Book of Kells? They are beautiful to look at, and the artistic skill on display is truly awesome in its intricacy and attention to detail. Such beauty is part of God’s plan for our lives, too: as we abide in the light of Christ, spending time with God in prayer, in worship, in scripture and in sacrament, we will find that we are slowly being changed, decorated, awakened. Living in the light of Christ frees us to become all that we were made to be, and I sometimes imagine this process by picturing an initial letter – in my case a J – being slowly painted in and decorated, being brought to life by God my creator, so that I too may shine as a light in the world, resplendent with the beauty that comes from God.
Illumination, though, does not come with a guarantee of comfort, and we get a hint of that both in Simeon’s words to Mary: ‘a sign that will be opposed, so that the inner thoughts of many may be revealed’, and also in our reading from Malachi, with its talk of refiner’s fire. Sometimes becoming who God made us to be, means being open also to purification and purging, allowing Jesus’ light to reveal our inner thoughts and outer actions that mar his image in us. Everything precious goes through this, and we should not be discouraged when God’s light acts in this way in our lives.
A GUIDING LIGHT
Even when life does get a bit uncomfortable, we can trust in God’s light as a guide for our lives. This light is always leading us home, always leading us back to Jesus, just as it did for Simeon and Anna. It’s clear from the text that their lives hadn’t been straightforward: the years of waiting for Simeon, the widowhood of Anna. And yet in another sense, their lives had been incredibly straightforward: they were both so wholly devoted to the things of God that when the moment came, they were ready to be guided by God, as they had been for so much of their lives, and as they followed God’s guidance, Jesus came right into their waiting arms.
It can be the same for us. Obviously, we’re not going to end up in the temple in Jerusalem holding the actual baby Jesus, but the same light that drew Anna and Simeon to Christ still shines in our world today. It’s there in everyone we meet, from our most cherished relatives to our least cherished work colleagues, and in total strangers too. That light can, if we allow it to, guide us deeper into generosity, love, and forgiveness, and the more we are so guided, the more Christ’s light shines within us, too, bringing the good news of God to a waiting world.
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