Long after everyone else has forgotten about Christmas, and the hot cross buns and Easter eggs have begun to be seen in our shops; we, like Christians around the world, have continued to celebrate the great forty days of Christmas.
This weekend the season of Epiphany comes to its conclusion. Our focus and celebration on the light of Christ dawning in the world, being made manifest to wise men, and in his baptism, and in the calling of his first disciples and in our baptisms and his calling of each one of us, comes to an end for another year.
Next time we are together in church the white vestments will be replaced by the green vestments of ordinary time, and the Christmas Crib will have been carefully put away.
The two great bookends of this season, are the birth of Jesus in a lowly stable on Christmas Day, and his being presented in the Temple, as a 40 day old baby, the Feast that we celebrate today.
In medieval times this day, on which the Gospel which he have just heard was proclaimed, was the day on which priests blessed the supply of Church candles which would burn throughout the year, and when special blessed candles were given to parishioners to burn in their homes, and so it became known as the Feast of Candlemass, that is the Mass of Candles.
Yet again, as we celebrate this Feast this weekend here in Australia, we face the problems of geography and climate. This is a feast that is supposed to be celebrated in the gloom and cold of winter. The traditions of Candlemass were developed in the northern hemisphere, not where we are in the South, in the middle of summer time. For the people of the past in the northern hemisphere, who did not have the luxuries of electricity and gas, Candlemass was a powerful festival of light in the cold and the dark of winter. Candles would be placed all around the church, and blessed candles would be given to the faithful to take home and enlighten their homes.
All of this was an important symbol of hope because by the end of January people living in the northern hemisphere have begun to see, albeit very slowly, the start of the lengthening of days, and the first signs of Spring. So there is a real hope that winter is coming to an end. So in its original form, this was a Feast of anticipation and of light.
Candlemass celebrates and remembers the wonderful account in the Gospel that we have just heard of Joseph and Mary, the parents of Jesus, taking him to the Temple to be offered to God as a baby.
Joseph and Mary have come to offer a sacrifice in the Temple in recognition of the fact that they are offering their son for the service of God, and naming him before God. The name Jesus is a very Jewish name. It is the same name as Joshua. In Hebrew it is very close to the word for salvation.
In all that takes place in the Temple on this day what had been told to the Blessed Virgin Mary by the angelic messenger begins to find its meaning. Mary was told that she would bear a son, and that she would call him Jesus, call him salvation, and in the Temple on this day he is named as the messenger had described so many months before. This was the moment of his naming in the Temple: the moment when he would be revealed as “Salvation”.
Joseph and Mary take Jesus to the Temple to name him, and to give thanks for him, and to offer him for the service of God. His parents are not the only ones to name him on that day. As we heard a few moments ago, an old and righteous man named Simeon, knew that there was something different about this child. Simeon takes the baby in his arms when he sees him, and praising God, he says those words which have become known to us as the Nunc Dimittis. Simeon says, “now I can die in peace, I have seen this baby the hope of salvation for all. For he is the light of the world. He is Jesus — he is salvation.”
Just like those candles being lit in the darkness of winter-time as people wait for the hope of spring, Jesus shines out to Simeon, and then to Anna, as a light in the darkness. But it is only the beginning of it all. Jesus is still a baby, it will be a very long time before he commences his ministry of teaching and healing. It is like the anticipation of spring in the northern hemisphere, everyone knows that it is surely coming as the days start to get lighter, but it is not fully here yet.
So here is Jesus in the Temple with his parents. Here are Simeon and Anna, recognising who Jesus is – naming him as the one who is salvation. But all of this is wrapped up in a little baby who cannot yet speak or walk or doing anything for himself. The light has come, and is still coming into the world.
The first Christians (the earliest followers of Christ) were known as “Children of Light.” At the heart of Candlemass we remember not only, that Jesus has ignited a light in this world which can never be quenched, never be darkened; we remember too, that it is through us (his Children of Light) that that light will continue to shine here in this local community. Just as we remember today that Jesus was named “salvation” in the Temple, so we remember too our own calling, our own name, “children of light” – children of the light of salvation. What does it mean to live as a Child of Light?
First and foremost, it means living lives that truly and deeply care about each other and those around us. In simple terms, when those we know, or even people who we hear about on the radio or see on the television have special problems or worries or needs we are called do our best to help them – by practical action and through prayer.
This weekend we come to hallow, that is to make holy, for God’s use, a symbol of light in this place: a votive candlestand that has been gifted to this church by Noelle Freeman and her family in memory of George and Deborah.
As Christians, because we seek to care for others within the light of Christ, we want to do something when people are in need. For example if someone has died we continue to pray for them, and we might light a candle for them as a sign that although they now live beyond the gateway of death we have not stopped loving them and will continue to love them until we meet again in the glory of our Heavenly Father. We pray for, and might light a candle for those who have been left behind and are mourning the death of a loved one. We pray for, and might light a candle for someone who is very ill or shortly to go through an operation. We pray for and might light a candle for people we know who are facing danger or confusion.
There are so many things that we might light a candle for, and as we do so we do not only simply light the candle we also commit ourselves to praying for that person or situation. We also pray in thanksgiving: lighting a candle as we give thanks to God for blessings received or answers to prayers.
For some of us this is a familiar practice, for others of us it is something new. Some of us will find it helpful, others will not. But the important thing to remember is that lighting a candle is not a substitute for our prayer, or for our practical action, but simply an accompaniment; an ancient devotional practice through which many millions of Christians the world over have found inspiration and comfort.
When we leave the church building our candles continue to burn as a sign that our prayer was not merely momentary, but is held within our hearts, and within the heart of God.
Today we are thrilled to welcome Liam and Brittany as they bring their daughter Eviee Margaret for baptism, and as they give thanks for her, and ask God to bless her, that she may have a life filled with joy, and a life that will bring joy to others.
On this Feast of Candlemass, we celebrate that all of us who have been baptised are children of God, Children of the Light. God calls us to be people who burn with the light of Christ in the darkness; people who burn with hope, like those ancient Candlemass candles burning at the beginning of the Spring which will replace Winter.
The Son of God is named “salvation” in the Temple, and today we are reminded that that saving light which he has brought to the world, shines on (like a candle burning in the darkness, like the candles of our prayers) through each one of us.