As we gather today to celebrate Candlemas, or the presentation of Christ at the Temple, we are invited into a place of joy, as we say farewell to Advent, Christmastide and Epiphany for another year. Today we gather to celebrate the coming of light into the world. The light born 40 days ago at Christmas, this is the very same light we celebrate at Easter. This is the light we are all called to carry out and share in the world, as God’s people. The Christ child is the light come into the world. As Rowan Williams says, we are light bearers. We continue to share this very same light in the world, as we share in the joy and abundance of God.
The festival of Candlemas is said to have been celebrate since the 4th Century (CE). As the name suggests, the word Candlemas comes from the word candle. It is no surprise that Candlemas is also known as the festival of light. It is associated with candles, the blessing of candles for use in the church and also in homes. Other traditions surrounding Candlemas include lighting of fires, eating crepes or pancakes (France, Belgium) and dressing the Christ child (Mexico). These are all joyous celebrations that remember Jesus ‘the light of the world’.
The joy we celebrate today is present in the Gospel reading we have just heard. Following Jewish tradition – according to the Law of Moses – Jesus, as Mary and Joseph’s firstborn son is brought to the Temple by his parents, as an offering to God. At the same time the righteous and devout Simeon and prophet Anna, guided by the Spirit, were le
ad to the temple at exactly the right place, at the right time for their paths to intersect with that of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Followed by the mystical, prophetic and joyous acclamations of both Simeon and Anna.
Simeon’s prayer (Luke 2:29-32) forms part of the liturgy for ‘the prayer at the end of the day’ or compline in our current prayerbook. This prayer takes place after Simeon takes the child Jesus in his arms and he proclaims ‘Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace: your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation: which you prepared in the sight of every people: A light to reveal you to the nations: and the glory of your people Israel.’
Simeon’s prayer does not express the happy, light hearted type of feelings we often associate with joy. If anything it would appear to be a prayer of acceptance and resignation, surrendering to God’s will. Simeon knew he would not died before seeing the Messiah, and now that was fulfilled. His prayer, full of joy, is also one of profound peace. As Cole Arthur Riley writes in her book This Here Flesh, “Joy is more tranquil [than happiness]… it’s much more about peace than vibrancy”. True joy can acknowledge and encompass the vast array of our emotions we can “hold on to [our] sorrow. It can rest safely here”. It is in this deeper understanding of joy – present in the prayer of Simeon – that we are truly liberated from despair, darkness and death. The prayer of Simeon is not based in despairing acceptance and resignation, but deep profound joy that encompasses and surpasses the limitations of fear and death.
Throughout history death is something that we try to avoid and even fear. Friedrich Justus Knecht surmises that “belief in Jesus Christ drives away all fear of death”. Simeon can now rejoice, even with the knowledge that his death is not far away. He is filled with joy. The inclusion of this prayer at the end of the day, reminds us and encourages us to share in the fulfilment of God’s word, the light has come in to the world, we to can share in the joy, peace and rest of Simeon’s prayer each and every day.
Simeon was filled with joy at the sight of the Messiah, able to die in peace not just because the Messiah had come. This moment was not a box to tick in order to gain entry to heaven, or signifying the freedom from Roman occupation. In this long awaited momentous event, Simeon was entirely passive. He did not actively seek it out, but waited and followed the urgings of the Spirit, nor through him or by him was this joyful event and hope for the future able to take place. It is God actively working in the world that led to this joyous moment, the coming of the light into the world, the sight of Jesus, the one who would reconcile and overcome all that separated God’s creation from God’s self.
The Gospel of Luke, sometimes referred to as the Gospel to the Gentiles, shares the good news of a liberating and loving God. This liberating joy found in today’s reading is furthered by Anna’s role. Anna also recognised Jesus as the long hoped for Messiah. She started praising God and told those looking for the redemption of Jerusalem about the child Jesus. I would like to think Anna did this with joy, unable to contain this encounter to herself, freely sharing with all who would listen. Sharing in the joy of the knowledge of God amongst us. The joy of being in relationship with God, a relationship that is not transactional, but abundant and open to all, like that of Simeon’s joy.
The joy of God is for all, both men and women equally. Jesus, the light of the world, does not do away with the old customs of Judaism, but instead he embraces them and the Jewish people. He also invites all people into a relationship with God – everyone is invited in to a relationship with God; Jew, Gentile, man, woman, child, rich and poor.
Sam Wells notes that Jesus is all [the things the Temple is], he is the new Temple, the place of encounter [with God], the embodiment of the new covenant, the fulfilment of the Law, the Redeemer who takes away the sins of the world. Wells’ interprets this scene of the presentation of Christ as a ‘passing of the baton’, out of the old covenant is emerging the living relationship we all have with God, made possible through Christ.
Christ the light of the world that gives us a sense of a great, deep joy that is liberating and reconciling for all. Just as a candle indiscriminately lights up a room, or fireworks light up a night sky, the light of God is revealed to all of God’s creation.
The joy of the Christ coming into the world, was not one of starting over, not a re-do of creation. In the Gospel we can see that there was continuity of tradition, but more importantly that God’s light, God’s action and participation in the world reached far beyond any preexisting human limitations. God who created the universe, was a light to all nations (that is all people and all creation) not just a light for the Jews. One aspect to the joy of God’s great light is its liberating and redeeming nature offered to all people, going far beyond any human regulation, tradition or structure.
As Riley shared, “My gramma’s deepest experiences of joy come in moments when it feels as if something has been restored or renewed. When repair happens, we must bear witness to it. Joy does that. It trains us towards a spirituality that isn’t rife with toxic positivity but is capable of telling the truth and celebrating when restoration has indeed happened”. This joy is the restoration and repair of relationship. All creation is able to come back into a relationship with God, as we continually grow in knowledge and awareness of God’s light shining on everyone and everything, on the good and the bad, on our mirth and happiness, on our greatest fears, shames and sorrows. This is the joy we celebrate today. The same joy and hope that fill us at Easter as we celebrate the crucified and risen Christ. This is not a joy of past events, but one that we carry with us as we journey through life, a living joy, of a living God that we share as light bearers in the world.
The joy of Simeon and Anna, the joy of Christmas and Easter, the joy of the light coming into the world is the joy of happiness and excitement, liberation and redemption, despair and sorrow. The joy of God with us in all things as we are called to sacred attention, beholding the divine in all things.
I leave you with a final quote from Cole Riley.
“You deserve more than the despair that stalks your days. You don’t have to make a sound; just let peace pass through your belly and be what you need it to be. These terrors don’t own your dreams. Call out to the masses, invite them into the warmth of your delight. Say:
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill
and has failed.
– Lucille Clifton”.
Today we celebrate the deep, all encompassing joy, that is the light of God amongst us. The joy of happiness, the joy of sorrow and the joy of peace.