“Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation……” Simeon, in Luke 2:22-40, NIV.
“So we begin our journey of hope, light and new beginnings….” Paul Elliott, Poet.
Today marks the Presentation of Christ, transferred from 2nd February, which is also known as Candlemas. When Simeon, the devout old man in the Temple, sees the baby Jesus, he takes him in his arms and declares him to be the light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. Over time, it became the custom in churches to light a central candle to represent this and to bless all the candles there so that those who saw that outer light would be reminded of the inner vision. The snowdrops which appear around this time are often called nature’s candles as the darkness of winter gradually gives way to the light of spring and my Welsh father always picked a snowdrop at Candlemas to bring into the house as a sign of this. He also used to quote:
If Candlemas day be fair and bright, winter will have a second flight.
If Candlemas day be dull with rain, winter will not come again.
We’ll see on Tuesday what happens and whether the saying about the weather will be right this year!
The presentation of Jesus in the Temple has great significance, not least because of the encounter between the generations. The baby and his parents, one younger and one older, meet two aged people, Simeon and Anna, as they come to honour the Law and rituals of their faith. In the encounter, both help each other understand more about themselves. Faithful Simeon, who knows that he won’t die until he had seen the Christ, realises that Jesus is what he has been waiting for and that his end is near. As he prays words that are still said at Evening Prayer, the Nunc Dimittis, he blesses Mary and Joseph but also tells Mary that her baby will cause the falling and rising of many and that a sword will pierce her own soul, too. What a thing to say to a new mum!
Although her words aren’t recorded, Anna then also gives thanks to God and speaks about the child’s future. Luke tells us that she never leaves the temple, fasting, praying and worshipping night and day. Both Simeon and Anna are faithful, active people who see with the eyes of the heart and recognise God’s purposes, which may enable the new parents to understand more than perhaps they do. Luke says earlier in his Gospel that, after the events of Jesus’ birth, Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Luke 2:19, NIV. Perhaps Simeon and Anna’s words now did not unduly surprise her but gave Mary more food for thought as she and Joseph then began their journey of light and new beginnings to Nazareth where Jesus grows up.
Today, because of the pandemic, older people have been asked to stay at home or self isolate and are often seen as vulnerable or frail. That may be sometimes the case – though by no means always! The wisdom, experience and humour of that generation has been inspirational to many, helping others to realise that this pandemic, too, will pass. Equally, the strength and willingness of some younger people has enabled shopping to arrive or journeys be made to have the vaccine, whilst grandchildren may bring hope for the future whatever the present troubles.
Each generation needs the others and, as we see this happening in the lives of Simeon and Anna as well as Joseph and Mary, may prayer enable us to ask for God’s help in our generation and to draw strength from their example – and that of the seemingly delicate but actually robust snowdrop!
With my prayers, Christine