Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lord, you now have set your servant free...

The Feast of the Presentation (Candlemas, in common parlance) has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to themes and imagery. Light, infancy, surprise, fulfillment, Incarnation, the Temple, the Blessed Virgin, old age, freedom, obedience, glory, suffering… this is but a slice of what this Feast deals with.

Perhaps this multiplicity of meanings is why this day has come to be centered so much on one thing: a burning candle. Nowhere is a candle mentioned in the story of the Presentation, yet this simple image of light in darkness captures so much of what we recall and show forth again each year on this Feast of Our Lord.

An old man named Simeon is told by God that he will not die until he has beheld the Lord’s Messiah. An old woman named Anna, who has lived as a widow time out of mind at the Temple, awaits God’s word to rejoice. All is poised, attentive.

Then comes an ordinary-looking family with that most extraordinary of children: Jesus, the Son of God. His mother comes to be purified: she who bore the Prince of Peace must submit to the Law. Jesus comes to be presented: he who is Lord of all, and whose Father's temple it is, yields to the just requirements of the ancient code for the People of God. Another presentation on a nearby hill awaits, dimly, in the future.

When Jesus enters the Temple, the Light of Life has come home--yet only a select few know or understand. Just as at his birth the promises to Israel for its Messiah were fulfilled, so today the place where God’s Name dwells meets the one who will in flesh and blood fulfill its stone-girt purpose.

Into the darkness of this world comes the light of divine mercy, compassion, and presence. An elderly woman likely thought without sense dances for joy, and a man so old no one knows how many Sabbaths he has seen can deliver the message he has waited a lifetime of expectation to share: "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too." 

It is a message for the Mary and Joseph to think over again and again through the swiftly-fleeting years of Jesus' childhood, and one for us to contemplate again today: this child reveals the hidden purposes of creation; this child brings to a head the conflict between the Truth and the Lie; no one can hold this child and not share in the birth-pangs of a New World. 

To share in this light is to be purified in truth, to be washed in truth, and to be overcome by truth that it may flow through us into the abyss of a world lost to itself and to God.

We bless and bear candles today because that child and his light have come to reside in us, to be borne out into the world in our lives. That light comes into the homes, hospital rooms, parks, prisons, shelters, offices, and the myriad other places where it is needed. These candles are not empty or quaint symbols: they are signs of what is true, what is actual, what in required. We are presented to Christ on this feast as his followers, each uniquely called and equipped to be his light-bearer.

In Jesus Christ you have been set free, now share the light within you.

Through you, others will be visited by the Christ-child; their isolation, fear, anxiety, oppression, and personal darkness will be bathed in the light of Christ. We really are that important. Our witness will be essential to someone in this world who shivers in the darkness of alienation and sin. Hold this candle with resolution today: bear the Light of Christ with intentionality and humility tomorrow and beyond.

Almighty and ever-living God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts through Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God, now and forever. Amen.

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