theunfamiliarname

Homily for Candlemas 2011

In Uncategorized on January 30, 2011 at 10:24 pm

This morning we commemorate Candlemas,
the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple.

The hopes and dreams of the old,
the prophetic figures of Simeon and Anna,
are met in the Christchild,
as his parents come to do
what was customary under the Torah, the Law.
What any Jewish family might do.

Mary and Joseph come to offer the least gift under the Law,
meaning they were of humble means… a couple of birds.

Today, too, the Church traditionally blessed candles
to be used throughout the year.
The “light to lighten the gentiles” is greeted in the Temple,
and we light candles to acknowledge that light.

The light of the Epiphany star,
the light that shines on those who dwell in darkness
and the shadow of death.

In the US it’s ‘Groundhog Day’,
when, the folk tradition goes,
a rodent will try to glimpse it’s shadow.
If he sees it, here comes the sun…
This seems as likely
as any other means of predicting the weather.

Like many other Feasts that shape the Christian year,
it has a pagan precursor.
The rhythms of the seasons and agricultural life
were part of the worlds of both Jews and Gentiles,
so we should not be surprised
that they shape church seasons too.

In the northern hemisphere,
this is the season when light is returning,
the days becoming longer,
and that ties in perfectly
with the imagery of Simeon’s great song of praise,
the Nunc Dimittis, when he recognises Jesus
as the “light to lighten the Gentiles”.

We too tend to get a second shot at summer.
We might want to claim our own local wisdom
after weeks of overcast and changeable weather,

E huri to mata ki te ra, kei muri nga ata e takaoreore ana
Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.

This is traditionally a time for moving on.
The last gasp of the Christmas story,
and the time for even die-hard Christmas decorators
to pack away the tinsel and take down the tree, the crib.

It is about this time
that we can no longer pretend that holidays go on forever,
as the daily grind claims us for another year.

The Church talks about the weeks that follow
as ‘Sundays in Ordinary Time’.
Jesus’ presentation in the Temple
marks the beginning of ordinary days
for the Holy Family.

Mary is received back into the ‘ordinariness’
of her place in the community, forty days after Jesus’ birth.
The wonder and danger of birth has past,
and everybody has to move on with the Everyday.

Five weeks after Christmas, we do too.

Yet we have a story in the gospel
that tells us of something quite different.
Here at the Temple Jesus is seen by two aged witnesses.
Tired eyes with weary bodies.

Simeon, waiting for his last breath it seems,
and Anna, 84, a widow, and a prophet.
Words of praise & hope & enthusiasm fall from their mouths.
The old can see the new thing God is doing.

The light of their devotion and their faith has not gone out,
and is kindled anew,
as they see in something very ordinary –
another baby presented in the Temple –
the spark of God’s redeeming power.
“My eyes have seen your salvation”.
“A light to lighten the Gentiles”.
What is the new thing God is showing us,
as we return to life as usual?
Where can we coax a candle to new invigorated life
and pass our light to those who need it?

How do we let our tired eyes
sparkle with the Light of Christ?
These are the days, these ordinary days to come,
when discipleship really matters.

And today’s symbol, taken from that image of light,
is the humble candle.

Poet, spiritual writer and Trappist Monk,
Thomas Merton, wrote these words:

Lumen
Ad revelationem gentium.

Look kindly, Jesus, where we come,
New Simeons, to kindle,
Each at Your infant sacrifice his
own life’s candle.

And when Your flame turns into many tongues,
See how the One is multiplied,
among us, hundreds!
And goes among the humble,
and consoles our sinful kindred.

It is for this we come,
And, kneeling, each receive one flame:

Ad revelationem gentium.

Our lives, like candles, spell / this simple symbol:
Weep like our bodily life, sweet work of bees,
Sweeten the world, with your slow sacrifice.

And this shall be our praise:
That by our glad expense, our Father’s will
Burned and consumed us for a parable.

Nor burn we now with brown
and smoky flames, but bright
Until our sacrifice is done,
(By which not we, but You are known)
And then, returning to our Father, one by one,
Give back our lives like wise and waxen lights.

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