Light of the world, which nourishes life and illumines all around

Mary Copping, 31 January 2021

Malachi 3: 1–5; Hebrews 2: 14–18; Luke 2: 22–40

Candlemas: Jesus is presented as a baby in the Temple. Imagine the scene – Mary and Joseph bringing their precious 40-day-old baby to the Temple to be presented to God in a ceremony, bringing two birds for sacrifice.

The Temple – a huge building – must have felt overwhelming to this couple coming from a small village nearby, as they climbed the large steps to the entrance. The Temple symbolised the very presence of God in the midst of all the people, the one place where the great festivals such as Passover and Pentecost were celebrated. And as they enter, they see the Menorah lit with seven flames of oil, and the priest waiting for them, to conduct the ceremony. But also there was Simeon, who’d been waiting for many years for the ‘consolation of Israel’, and he’d been led by the Holy Spirit to the Temple; perhaps he was feeling excited at what was to greet him. Anna too, a prophetess who’d also been waiting many years for the Messiah, perhaps had even spoken to many people over the years about her hopes of his coming.

Then Simeon takes the baby in his arms and gives his song about this baby as a light for the revelation to the Gentiles. The people around watch as these words are said or sung, wondering at this, perhaps whispering, ‘Is this the one who is to come, as spoken about in our Torah?’ Breaths are hushed as they listen to Simeon and perhaps Anna too, though her words are not recorded in Luke’s gospel. What a momentous, special but very humble and quiet occasion!

Jesus, light of the world, coming to us as a Jewish baby, with obedient parents doing all that was expected of them in their Jewish tradition. God at work bringing significant people together as Jesus, his precious Son, was presented in that holy place.

Candlemas, is a major feast in the Church calendar, which is what is commemorated in our gospel reading. Candles were traditionally blessed at this festival. The blessing of the candles on the day of presentation was from the words of Simeon, saying that the baby was a light to the Gentiles.

The use of lights in worship goes back to the beginning of the Church, but even further. Among the Jews and in many pagan rites, the use of lights had long been seen as appropriate for worship of God or gods. Probably among Christians they were first used simply to dispel darkness. But the beautiful symbolism of their use was soon recognised by the Christian writers of the early Church. Light is pure, it penetrates darkness. It nourishes life, it illumines all around. So it’s a fitting symbol of God, pure omnipresent source of grace and light, with Jesus his Son the light of the world.

Here in this church we have candles lit to celebrate Jesus as this light, and children brought for baptism are each given a special candle to symbolise them being given the light of Christ and of taking it into the world.

There are two types of light: physical and spiritual. Physical light is necessary for life. But spiritual light is light conveying both an absence of darkness and a quality that will help us to see – and understand – more clearly. Understand God. God’s light and wisdom guides us through troubled times and challenges.

It was really good to see all the Christmas lights, which seemed to lift the spirits somehow, and in a way I’m sorry they’ve been put away for another year. But with Christ we’re talking about a different light – an inner, spiritual light that all believers have, Christ’s light, the inner peace that we sometimes feel, the inner glow that occasionally we may sense, the presence of God in and with us.

Christ’s light, the inner peace that we sometimes feel, the inner glow that occasionally we may sense, the presence of God in and with us.

How does this ‘glow’ or difference change us? St Paul, seeing the bright light of God on the road to Damascus, became a completely changed man. Moses, earlier on, as he saw the light of the burning bush, was told he was on holy ground and was given his commission to lead the people.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, ‘Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven’ (5: 16).

We’re children of God, people being blessed and changed by God. The light is our understanding that God is our Father, and an understanding of God’s love for us and for the world.

In the world around us we see much darkness, despair, pain and suffering. We hear on the news of lockdowns, and people suffering with this virus causing endless harm and destruction. What is the answer? Who knows? But somehow our faith in God carries us through. We see light around us – in God’s creation, in beautiful sunsets, in lights from people’s windows as we walk, and the sunlight which brings such warmth. And pinpoints of light and hope are beginning to emerge, as the vaccine is available to more and more people – light to show us that there is an end.

We are all children of God; we are bearers of the light, of his light, even though often we are not aware of it. We bear that light to others as we speak with them, meet on Zoom, text, phone. And as we spend time quietly with God we can receive his light afresh to share with others. As we go forward into the darkness of this seemingly long night, let us thank God that Jesus is still the light of the world, and let us ask him to show us his light afresh, to bring hope to us and to those around us.

So to finish, a poem from Malcolm Guite called, ‘I am the light of the world’.

I see your world in light that shines behind me,
Lit by a sun whose rays I cannot see,
The smallest gleam of light still seems to find me
Or find the child who’s hiding deep inside me.
I see your light reflected in the water,
Or kindled suddenly in someone’s eyes,
It shimmers through the living leaves of summer,
Or spills from silver veins in leaden skies,
It gathers in the candles at our vespers
It concentrates in tiny drops of dew
At times it sings for joy, at times it whispers,
But all the time it calls me back to you.
I follow you upstream through this dark night
My saviour, source and spring, my life and light.