Sermon by Haydon Wilcox 30.01.2022

Sermon by Haydon Wilcox

Sunday 30th January 2022

 

I still have my crib set up at home and a candle has been burning before it each evening.  It’s not that I have forgotten or can’t be bothered to put it away but because we are still in the season of Epiphany, which formally ends at Candlemas.  The 2nd of February is the actual day but because you’ll not be having a service on Tuesday, we are allowed to transfer the festival to this Sunday.

 

But what is Candlemas and why is it so significant?  Well traditionally Candlemas has been the day when all the candles in the church are blessed.  Blessed because they are set apart to be throughout the year symbols of God’s light, revealed in Christ, who in scripture is called the light of the world.  So, if you were to attend evensong on 2nd February, say in a Cathedral, out will come all the newly purchased candles to be used for the year ahead and they will be blessed.

 

Of course,  the real meaning of Candlemas is based upon our gospel reading when Mary and Joseph take their baby son to the temple in Jerusalem to make the act of purification and to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving as they present their first-born son to God.  The sacrifice of a pair of doves reveals how poor they are because this is the humblest of offerings. During a very special but ordinary custom, something happens that confirms how significant their son is.

 

They have an encounter in the temple courts with Simeon, an old devout and righteous man, who led by the Holy Spirit, takes Jesus in his arms, and make a prophecy concerning him. He is claiming Jesus to be the Messiah, the bearer of salvation and a light not only to the Jewish national but to the people of the whole world. 

 

When he hands Jesus back to Mary, he quietly reminds her that the child will know suffering, that his life will divide and reveal people for who they are and that Mary will know pain, like a sword,  piercing her soul because of all that will happen to him.

Indeed, Simeon’s message that Jesus is the light of the world is both a sweet but a bitter one.

No sooner have Jesus’ parents experienced all this, another person, Anna, also of a great age but again a devote religious woman, known and respected by many as a prophet, praises God and proclaims that the child, Jesus, will be the redemption of the people.

For Mary and Joseph, it must have seemed that so many strange and wonderful things had happened since their child had been conceived.  

 

They knew he was a child with a vocation to serve God but their role, like all parents was as the story reminds us, was to help him to grow, become strong and to learn wisdom and to help him to know that God had something special for him to do.

Candlemas reminds us of the promise that Jesus is the light of the world.  And when we blew out our candles this morning after the gospel reading it marked the end of the season of light.  That season started on the 1st November when we celebrated All Saint’s Day and then the next day All Soul’s Day.  Those of you who attended at that time the Commemorative Service I held know how this altar was filled with the light of dozens of candles. 

So, we remembered the light of Christ revealed in the saints and our loved ones.  We moved to Advent and lit the Advent Candles.  

 

Then we lit candles for Christingle and at Christmas and now the season of light ends, because we turn to Jesus’ ministry and his teaching, then the suffering of the cross, then the joy of the resurrection, then the stories of the birth and growth of the church, only to return, as the dark nights draw, in to remember Jesus the light that shines  in the darkness, which nothing will extinguish.

This wonderful liturgical movement.  This changing of season. This cycle of joy, hope, faith, suffering and love, greeting us each year and confirming in us the truth that in Jesus we have found life in all its fullness and that nothing can ever separate us now from the love of God.

In a world of paradox when there is potential war in the East of Europe, which could implode into the whole world rests in contrast to the concerns of historical gathering of parties in the Westminster village dominates the headlines.  The police investigations alone are to be more than a millions pounds! When the pandemic still rages around the world, fuel poverty is the prospect for many, financial struggle could grow for many, and the issues of climate change have moved back in the conversations of leaders and journalists: we realise that this world needs to know hope.  It is our role as Christians to show hope, to be a light in the darkness.  To show love, to show acts of generosity and support.  To pray committedly for peace and justice in this world.  To tell people about the teaching of Jesus and to reveal it as a church of welcome and safety, as a place where we can draw near to God and as a community that we can learn about Jesus.

So though at Candlemas we blow out the candles we hold, we should continue to shine as lights, so that our lives might reflect the glory of God.