Sunday, 31st January: Candlemas

Welcome to this week’s service which comes from St Nicolas Church. You are invited to bring a candle to this service with something to light it with. The service is 35 minutes in length. The Collect, the Gospel reading and the text of our sermon and the intercessions are below should you wish to follow them or look at them again. The link to This Week’s Notices is at the bottom.

The Collect: The Prayer for Today

Almighty God, by whose grace alone we are accepted and called to your service: strengthen us by your Holy Spirit and make us worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

The Gospel Reading: Luke 2: 22-40 Jesus Is Presented in the Temple

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “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.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

The Sermon

As we celebrate Candlemas today, we look forward towards the coming of the spring and the lighter half of the year.  Traditionally when candles were the main source of light in homes, people brought those candles to be blessed in church – hence the name “Candlemas”, and we blessed our candles at the beginning of this service.  Candlemas marks the end of Epiphany season when we turn from the celebration of Christ’s birth and start to look towards his adult life and ministry.  It is a time of endings and beginnings.

In our gospel reading we heard the story of Simeon and Anna.  Simeon is described as a devout man who had been waiting for the consolation of Israel.  He had been told that God’s anointed would be revealed to him before his own death and so he waited in hope and expectation.  Anna was an octogenarian prophetess of the tribe of Asher.  And we know that the lives of these two people were framed by prayer, by God’s presence in their daily routine.  

That day in the temple they witnessed something remarkable.  They realised that the time had come.  I wonder if they ever expected it to happen in such a way. Mary and Joseph were just an ordinary, poor couple going about the usual rituals of their faith and culture as they brought their first-born son, Jesus, to the temple.

Yet in that vulnerable child Simeon and Anna knew God’s anointed one had come and a new age was dawning.  Just imagine for a moment what it must have meant to Simeon to know that God’s promise had at last been fulfilled?  What must it have meant to Anna after all those long years of widowhood, of faithful daily prayer, to see at last the hope and light in this new life, knowing that her own life would soon end?

Simeon and Anna knew all about waiting.  And perhaps this year their stories have all the more to teach us, as we find ourselves waiting and waiting for the pandemic to be over, praying for vaccines to bring an end to the tragic deaths, and to the restrictions that have come to govern our lives over the past year, and grieving with those who mourn.  

We are such an impatient people, used to being in control.  And now we find ourselves forced to acknowledge that we cannot control everything in our lives.  We find it so hard not to know when things will change and improve.  I’ve found myself turning the television off several times this week as yet another person asked questions to which no one has an answer “when will restrictions be eased?  How long before we can send our children back to school?”  and even, on the sad day when over 100,000 deaths were announced, the first question to the Prime Minister was “when can we travel again?”  The more we chafe and struggle against this need to wait, the more stressed and fractious we become. 

I wonder if Simeon and Anna ever badgered God with their questions?  How long before I see your anointed one?  How many years will I have to wait?  Will it be next week, next month, next year?  Since they are human beings, they very possibly had their own moments of questioning and chafing at the waiting over the years.

But that isn’t what Luke records as the significant thing about them. What he records is their patient, faithful prayerfulness, and their hopeful readiness to recognise and receive what God is doing when the time comes.  They didn’t know when.  But they trusted God.

Perhaps this season of waiting in our lives during such a challenging time gives us a unique opportunity to cultivate that attitude of patient, faithful prayerfulness and open our ears and our hearts to see what God is doing among us and longs to do through us.

Christmas is a long time ago.  In a normal year, we might find ourselves very busy getting on with our lives, filling up our diaries as we move towards the spring.  Perhaps this year we have the chance to do things differently, to let the waiting become a deep inner stillness as we remember that like Simeon and Anna we wait in the presence of God and can trust his faithful love for us and let that be the source of our hope.

God is always at work, often quietly and without announcement.  We could so easily miss the sacred and divine in and around us.  But Candlemas reminds us to pause and reflect.  Simeon and Anna’s lives were drawing to their end, and at the beginning of this service we took a moment to remember and honour those lives which have ended or are ending.  Jesus, God’s promised Messiah heralded the start of new life for God’s world, and so we prepare ourselves for what lies ahead as we look forward with hope in a faithful God.

And whether we look back or look forward we ask for God’s grace to catch a glimpse of God in the ordinary and routine, to see his light shining in the darkness. Winter is not yet over.  The pandemic still has its course to run.  The next few months will be hard. But God’s light is shining deep within our hearts.  A light to lighten the whole world and be the glory of his people.

Instead of mourning that we cannot gather in a sacred building, let’s remember that we are God’s holy temple.  And God’s work of transformation continues in our hearts as we make space for him to work his purpose out in us.  May our lives show the world a glimpse of his glory as we wait with the hope and faith that brings us inner peace in the chaos and pain of a difficult world and sends us out with compassion to share with others the light of Christ that we are privileged to know.

Our Intercessions

Let us pray to the Father through Christ who is our light and life.
Father, your Christ is acclaimed as the glory of Israel:
look in mercy on your Church, sharing his light.
Lord, have mercy.
All   Christ, have mercy.
Father, your Christ in his temple brings judgement on the world:
look in mercy on the nations, who long for his justice.
Lord, have mercy.
All   Christ, have mercy.
Father, your Christ, who was rich, for our sakes became poor:
look in mercy on the needy, suffering with him.
Lord, have mercy.
All   Christ, have mercy.
Father, your Christ is the one in whom faithful servants find their peace:
look in mercy on the departed, that they may see your salvation.
Lord, have mercy.
All   Christ, have mercy.
Father, your Christ is revealed as the one destined to be rejected:
look in mercy on us who now turn towards his passion.
Lord, have mercy.
All   Christ, have mercy.
Lord God, you kept faith with Simeon and Anna,
and showed them the infant King.
Give us grace to put all our trust in your promises,
and the patience to wait for their fulfilment;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.
All   Amen.

This Week’s Notices: Click this link to read the notices.