Reflection for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany and Candlemas.
“My eyes have seen your salvation… a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon in today’s Gospel, Luke 2:22-40, NRSV.
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.” Weather saying.
Today is a turning point, being the last Sunday of Epiphany this year and focussing on the reading for Candlemas as thoughts and preparations begin to turn towards Lent. So much is it a turning point, being also half way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, that Candlemas also became associated with the appearance of nature’s candles, the snowdrops, and weather forecasting, as well as the blessing of candles in church. Candlemas is the time when the infant Jesus was presented in the Temple and when his mother came to be cleansed after childbirth, as was the custom. In offering a sacrifice of two turtle doves or pigeons, it’s clear that Joseph and Mary could not afford the lamb offered by wealthier worshippers and that they are an ordinary rather than privileged couple. However, the extraordinary happens when the old man Simeon sees Jesus, recognises him to be the one he has waited for, and declares him to a Light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of Israel.
Simeon takes the child in his arms as he prays what is now known as the Nunc Dimittis and the old man knows that his life’s work is now accomplished and that he will soon die. However, he also tells the parents that the child is destined to cause many to fall and rise, that he will be opposed and that Mary will experience the pain of this like a sword in her heart. Luke tells us that a prophetess name Anna was also present and that she also spoke about the child but her words are not recorded. Mary and Joseph are amazed at what was said about the child – what did they make of all this at the time and afterwards?
Both Simeon and Anna are elderly and have been faithfully in the Temple for many years as they pray, watch and wait for God’s purposes to be fulfilled. The shepherds and Magi of the Christmas stories have left and Simeon and Anna have missed the glory that accompanied them – and yet they still wait patiently. Did news of the strange happenings reach them? How did they know that, amongst the many babies being brought to the Temple, this is the one they are longing to see? In contrast to young Mary, the worker shepherds and the stargazing Travellers from the East, these two old people remind us that the elderly are also part of God’s purposes and that age can bring wisdom and insight. Their faithfulness and quiet perseverance is rewarded when they remain in the Temple – and their hope is fulfilled in it. Jesus has been brought to the Temple to be customarily consecrated as a first born male – and Simeon and Anna are themselves blessed when they glimpse the Light that enlightens them too.
Simeon and Anna find God within the walls of a place of faith when so many often don’t. At a time when the Church is sometimes not what people long for it to be, and when it can be subject to so much criticism, perhaps we need to follow the patience and perseverance of Simeon and Anna in watching and waiting to glimpse the Light through faithfully serving where we are. From their encounter developed the later custom of blessing candles in the bringing of light to those in darkness and nature’s candles, the snowdrops, are also called Candlemas bells as the first indications of bringing the good news that the light of Spring and new life is on its way. God’s purposes involve all ages, all stages of life and all situations – may we, like Simeon and Anna, wait patiently and hopefully as we not only seek the Light but reflect it too and find ourselves blessed in being part of God’s purposes when we do.
With my prayers; pob bendith,