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Let the light shine

200202 Candlemas A Malachi 3:1-4 Ps 84 Hebrews 2:14-18 Luke 2:22-40

+ In the name of the Father and of the So and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

The writer of the psalm longed to get away from the bustling world to meet God inside his dwelling place, his holy temple. We can meet God anywhere, at any time. We know that going into a church building can help us step aside from the busy mainstream of life so we can quietly meditate and pray. We find joy not only in the beautiful building but also in the prayers, music, lessons, sermons and fellowship with other worshippers. When pilgrims went to the temple in Jerusalem, they were said to pass through the valley of dryness, the barren Valley of Baca. No specific valley has been identified with Baca. Because Baca can mean “weeping” it may have been a symbolic reference to the times of struggles and tears through which a person may pass on their way to meet God. Growing strong in God’s presence is often preceded by a journey through barren places in our lives. The person who loves to spend time with God will see his or her aversity as an opportunity to re-experience God’s faithfulness. God does not promise to give us everything we think is good, but he will not withhold what is permanently good. He will give us the means to walk along his paths, the light in our mind’s eye to see the way- but we will need to do the walking.

Today may be thought of as a festival of light. We heard about the light in today’s Gospel. The light is Christ himself, our salvation and life and, as we come to the conclusion of this service our blessing includes the theme and symbolism of the light of Christ.

Symbolism and ritual take a surprising amount of space in our lives, and no less in ancient times.

Jewish families went through several ceremonies soon after a baby’s birth. Every boy was circumcised and named on the eighth day after birth (Leviticus12:3) Circumcision symbolised the Jews’ separation from the Gentiles and their unique relationship with God at the beginning of the formation of God’s holy nation. A firstborn son was presented to God one month after birth. (Exodus13:2, 11-16) and the ceremony included the parents buying back or “redeeming” the child from God through an offering. In this ceremony the parents acknowledge that the child belongs to God who alone has the power to give life.

The Purification of the Mother occurred 40 days after the birth of son and 80 days after the birth of a daughter, The Mother was ceremonially unclean and could not enter the temple. At the end of her period of separation the parents would bring a lamb for a burnt offering and a dove or pigeon for a sin offering. This is what Mary and Joseph did. Jesus was God’s son, but his family followed these ceremonies according to God’s law. Jesus was not born above the law and he fulfilled it perfectly. Some of the symbolic rituals are still honoured today and even in our own lives significant rituals are important. When their religious obligations were completed Mary and Joseph went home. We are not exactly certain when they returned to Nazareth as in the stories of remaining in Bethlehem and going to Egypt there are some gaps, but where-ever they lived we are told that the child Jesus grew in wisdom and was close to his heavenly Father.

When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple to be consecrated to God, they met an old man who told them what their child would become. Simeon’s song is often referred to as the Nunc Dimittis because these are the first words of its Latin translation. Simeon could die in peace because he had seen the Messiah. The Jews knew well the Old Testament prophecies that spoke of the Messiah’s blessings to their nation, but they did not always give equal attention to the prophecies saying that he would being salvation to the entire world, not just the Jews. Many people thought that Christ had come to save only his own people, but in his writings, Luke made sure his Greek audience understood that Christ had come to save all who believe, Gentiles as well as Jews

No wonder Mary and Joseph were amazed. Simeon said that Jesus was a gift from God., Simeon recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and Simeon said Jesus would be “a light to the entire world.” This was at least the second time that Mary had been greeted with a prophecy about her son. The first time was when Elizabeth welcomed her as the mother of her Lord.

Mary and Joseph may have been familiar with the prophecies about 430 years before the birth of Jesus and would have pondered the words of Malachi. Two messengers are mentioned by Malachi, God’s prophet in Jerusalem. The first is understood to be John the Baptist and the second is a metaphor for Jesus established in his temple working with pure gold, as a gold smith would. The gold is heated until it melts, and in the melting, impurities rise to the surface and can be skimmed off. As the impurities are skimmed off the surface of the molten metal is like a mirror, and the reflection of the metal worker is seen clearly in the pure surface.

As we are purified by God, his reflection in our lives will become more and more clear to those around us. Simeon prophesied that Jesus would have a paradoxical effect on Israel. Some would fall because of him, (Isaiah 8:14.15)while others would rise (Malachi 4:2) With Jesus there would be no neutral ground; people would either joyfully accept him or totally reject him. As Jesus’ mother, Mary would be grieved by the widespread rejection he would face. This is the first note of sorrow in Luke’s Gospel.

In our own lives, it is important never to lose hope and although Simeon and Anna were very old, they had never lost hope they would see the Messiah. Led by the Holy Spirit, they were among the first to bear witness to Jesus. In the Jewish culture, elders were respected, so because of Simeon’s and Anna’s age their prophecies carried extra weight. The faithful ministry of the prayerful wise is a great blessing. Anna was called a prophetess, telling us that she was unusually close to God. Prophets did not necessarily predict the future, but usually spoke for God in current matters revealing his truth.

The words of ritual and prophecies bring us to thinking of the rituals we use in our own devotions and as we now turn our thoughts towards the 40 days of Lent let us consider the Light that has come into our world and into our hearts… Today we have an opportunity to receive a candle blessed for use at home in our private time with God, or to use in our family time with others in the presence of God. The candlelight reminds us of God’s presence, illuminating our hearts and inner being, to help us see the way, because when we obey him, he will not hold anything back that will help us serve him with confidence, with peace and with joy. Amen.

The Reverend Camellia Flanagan.

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