Sunday 5 February - Candlemas - Evensong - Clephane Hume

Haggai 2  1-9;  1John 3  1-8.

The Old Testament lesson takes me into a flight of history. King Darius the Great, of the Achaeminid dynasty ofPersia, is recognised as being the one who enabled the Jewish people to rebuild the temple atJerusalem. About 500 years BC. He was also the founder of the city ofPersepolis. Present dayIranhas interesting architectural features. The people there would probably currently benefit from hearing a similar message of hope instead of one of exclusion from western countries.

The prophet Haggai was indirectly responsible for initiating the temple building project, though from this and earlier chapters, it sounds as though the people took a lot of persuasion. Presumably such titles as ‘the great’ are posthumously granted, but it’s still satisfying to me, to be able to link the biblical reference to Darius, to someone I have heard about in the realms of ancient times.

But I stray from Candlemas. Although depending upon which lectionary you follow this is the 5th Sunday in Epiphany or the 4th before Lent! Confusion for preachers!

The actual feast of Candlemas, was on February 2nd.

And that is the day when the light of Christmas culminates in accordance with the practice of the time, with the presentation of Christ in the temple. The day when his mother was purified and allowed out into the world again. (There used to be a special service – churching of women – in the Prayer Book). His parents dutifully bring Jesus and there he is recognised by two elderly worshippers. Simeon and Anna would know the words of the prophets, and thus be familiar with God’s promise to his people.

Hence they acknowledged what the Lord had done, described in Simeon’s song, which we sing each evening - the words of the Nunc Dimittis – lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.

The conclusion, for Simeon, of a long life of waiting, the revelation of the light to lighten the gentiles. Perpetual light.

Candlemas is also the turning point towards the darkness of Lent. But a word of possible cheer, it marks the midpoint of winter. According to the calendar that is, not the meteorologists.

But in this story there was also the foretelling of what is to come. Which points us to Good Friday and the sorrow of Mary. A life of worry for her. Uncertainty. Things for her to ponder in her heart.

Bring confronted with the reality of one’s impending death is not easy. How long do you think I have? my friend asked me. That’s a question to which only God knows the answer. And Jesus always knew that that would be his mission. A short life, unlike the venerable years of Simeon, but fulfilling God’s purpose.

We may, or may not, be aware of what that mission is for each one of us. But whatever transpires we have the promise -

Take courage for I am with you. My spirit abides with you, do not fear.

And in the New Testament world this is echoed in the letter of John - see what the Lord has done. We are God’s children.

We have the light to sustain us through the shadows of Lent and on to Easter.

In days gone by, candles were the only source of light during the hours of darkness. Creating smoke blackened ceilings. They provided a little heat too. Now we use them in purely decorative ways, often to add perfume to our homes.

And more seriously, as a symbol when we offer prayer – the votive candle stands that are now commonly found in our churches. People light a candle for a cause or someone in need. I’m sure the main function is to help the lighter – God will be aware without such hints.

There are also the memorials of which we have seen too many in the past few years.

I grapple with the tendency of complete strangers to light candles for someone who has had a traumatic death. Some families do too. Private remembrance needs to be just that.

Light shines in other ways. I am constantly humbled by witnessing the message of people in extreme adversity who continue to make the joy of their faith known to the world. Who praise God for his goodness in the midst of a disaster zone, refugee camp or hospice. When others might sink into gloom and despondency. A challenge to us.

And that is a form of candlelight. Little lights of witness to the supreme light, God, shown to us by Christ, the light of the world.

I’m not sure that I have sung the popular hymn ‘shine, Jesus shine,’ in this church…… but the line – ‘Lord the light of your love is shining’ does have relevance for Candlemas. **

And because of him, Jesus, whatever happens to you during the course of your life, the Lord God will be an everlasting light for you.

**This comment was followed up by our Director of Music, Stephen Doughty, who improvised a splendid voluntary at the end of the service, based on the music for this hymn.