February 2nd 2020
Candlemas, as it is anciently known in the UK, is a wonderful feast, we owe its place in our Christian calendar to the Eastern communities of Christianity, known as the Hypapnte or Meeting, based on the events described in Luke 2 where Jesus is presented in the Temple by Mary and Joseph where the baby is revealed as the promised one to Simeon and Anna. As Presentation of the first born, it connects with the Christmas feasts and is seen as a traditional end to the season, for an old tradition keeps the Christmas Crib up until this day.
There are numerous references to its celebration in Jerusalem in the fourth century with a procession and in the fifth century the custom of lighting candles at the liturgy began and so the tradition of blessing them on this day began, but its popularity in the West took longer to establish. In Eastern liturgical tradition it is unique in being both a Great Feast of the Lord and of the Theotokos, being also her purification, and is in a real sense an 'epiphany' feast, a revealing of Christ as divine!
Yet in all this joy, the story of the Presentation pulls together two deeper meetings for us all, Malachi hints at its importance in the first reading for the feast:
'Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?' (Mal 3:1,2a)
Here we face a big question, are any of us ready for the Lord's coming both now and at the end of the ages? To think about what this means let us look beyond past historical events for in our liturgical celebration this feast is about an encounter for each one of us NOW, it is a kairos moment. The messenger of the Lord is coming, we can immediately see this in John preparing the way for Jesus but what about our own task as messengers, disciples of Christ our God, who are we preparing the way for? That's the first meeting we encounter, in our Christian lives ourselves the Christ of the Beatitudes who sees us in so many disguises, can we endure the real coming of the Lord in these things, can we stand to face the Lord as he comes hidden in our neighbour, the poor, the marginalised, the living creatures of a desperately wounded planet, can we even recognise him in them as Simeon did? Do our eyes see salvation?
The second meeting is one that everybody has to face, the coming of the Lord at the end of our own lives. Simeon recognises his time has come and facing it, he sees the light of God in his hands and realises that all along God has been with him, loving him. In the child he feels that faith can carry on, hope passes from the old to the young, and so mixed up in this meeting is our destiny as faithful Christians.
Can we share our hope and faith with others, can we learn to let go and let God in, can we, the older ones, stop our faith bickering and get to the heart of the Incarnation, In Christ , God enters or experience and never leaves it, the wisdom of those on a faith journey is incalculable, so that meeting between Simeon and Christ is mirrored not only in ours with Christ but in the young seeking our wisdom in faith. We become the flickering candles of Candlemas, the light to the gentiles and the glory of God's people!
Nunc Dimittis by Fr Robin Gibbons
I am a ghost man, shelled like a pea pod
By the very unkindness of my God,
Who leading me a merry dance of years-
Does not alleviate, but accentuates my fears.
I have served in sacred words and rhyme,
The praises of this Lord through time.
Up and down the minutes, and the days-
And still God demands more of me, always!
That still small voice, bah! What is this?
When old age shows the foolishness
Of pious claptrap, too much 'Word',
Prayers unanswered, prayer unheard?
Silence for me means little else-
Except-the noisy pulse of tinnitus.
Aches and pains make kneeling wrong,
I am wearied now, no longer strong.
Yet I would not trade this lot I bear
For any miracle of healing, where-
All would be well: No, my eyes saw
Salvations child and heaven's door!
That was enough: For in my hands I blessed
The Creator come to us en-fleshed!
I knew then, that though I am the least,
I'm welcomed home to heaven's feast.
Straight into Mary's arms-I let the baby go,
At last, Good Lord, peace, salvation now I know,
For my eyes have seen what Moses saw,
Burning bush and God of Love, completed Law!
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
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