Sunday, February 03, 2013

Candlemas - the Intergenerational Feast

Today we keep as the Feast of Candlemas - it was the time in the Medieval church when people brought their year’s stock of candles to be blessed by the priest. By many, this was probably done out of superstition - maybe the candles would somehow last longer or burn brighter as a result. Candles also have a very powerful symbolism.  They often symbolise the presence of God and the Risen Christ himself, and so there is an element of somehow the presence of God being brought into the ordinariness of our homes and everyday lives as a result.

Sometimes what we celebrate today is known as the presentation of Christ in the Temple - the day that Mary and Joseph did for Jesus what was expected of them under the Law. As good Jews they were obliged to bring the infant Jesus to the Temple to present him to God and to see him dedicated in His service. Yet out of that obligation, that expected duty, God revealed something deeply unexpected about this child - who would be the saving presence of God in the world for all people and a light to lead all people of the world to Him.

Sometimes, especially in old prayerbooks, this Feast is known as the Purification of Mary - as the blood of childbirth, according to the Old Testament law, made women ritually unclean and they needed to be purified by the priest.  Following these rites, they were able to regain their place within the family, within the wider community and within the community of faith. As Mary subjected herself to this ritual in the presence of her beloved and her infant Son, we are reminded that is is through the blood that Christ would later shed on the cross, that we would be purified and regain our rightful status within the family of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.

At the heart of this story stands God Himself - to welcome the Holy Family and to affirm the faithful, prayerful waiting of old Simeon and Anna. In the midst of young and old alike, something of God’s hopes and dreams for this child and for each of us are revealed.

Through Old Simeon - the Infant Christ is revealed as God’s saving presence to all the nations of the world, and the light that will guide all people to God.

To young Mary - the Infant Christ is revealed as one who will upend the normal understanding of power in the world; the one whose searing light will shine into the dark places of our consciences revealing who we really are and what really drives us.

Mary and Joseph, like all young parents will have had hopes and dreams for their child as yet unwritten but held as longings within their hearts - would he be a carpenter like his father before him? Who would he marry? Where would he live? Would he be successful? Would he be able to care for them as they grew old themselves? Simeon and Anna also had hopes and dreams for the coming of God afresh in their generation, which they had longed for for a lifetime in their hearts - but as they encountered this child they knew that those longings would be fulfilled.

God is doing something new in and through this child and He reveals His plans and purposes to young and older alike.  Candlemas is therefore something of an intergenerational Feast - where young and old alike are affirmed and spoken to and through by God but also one where the young follow tradition prescribed by the Law, and the old see something fresh and new from God opening before them.

God continues to do that - to surprise and delight us as He does new things in our lives through this child, whether we are young or older, whether rising out of traditions long held or doing something fresh or new. The thing is, are we open to seeing it?

Simeon can depart this life in peace because he has seen and recognised Jesus. That’s our task too, whatever age or stage we are at - to see and to recognise Jesus wherever and in whomever we encounter Him and to point Him out to others.

As young and older we see and celebrate the presence of Jesus amongst us each week as we gather for the Eucharist, for in the sharing of bread and wine Jesus promised He would be with us. We aren’t to leave Him at the church door though - as we leave - we do so filled afresh with the life of Christ, He becomes us in a new and deeper way and we are called, compelled sometimes, to live and love in ways that others see something of the new thing that God is doing in us.

At our baptisms we were given a candle to remind us of the way that our lives are now bound together with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Each of us therefore carries something of the light of His presence in us.  Candle flames, like all lights, show us things that might be hidden, light up dark corners, bring warmth and hope to even the darkest times

There will be dark times ahead - for Christ as we turn toward Lent and the Cross, but for us too - there always are.....but today, just as much as we did at  Christmas, we rejoice that “the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out”

Our continuing task, then as young and older, is to share that light...To carry the light of faith, hope and love out into the world so that others may see and recognise Christ. Amen.


With a little inspiration from Dean and Kathryn - with thanks...

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