Jesus presentation in the Temple is the last of the baby stories within Luke's narrative of Jesus' birth. Matthew, of course, gives us a different version of Jesus childhood, one which ends with the Holy Family fleeing into Egypt. These two events come from very different times and places in the life of Jesus. The Presentation, when Jesus is eight days old, and the visit of the Magi and subsequent rage of Herod which causes his parents to flee is likely to have happened nearer to the time when Jesus was two years old.
The Church Year, of course, with its twelve month cycle, cannot reflect this, and compresses the Gospels into a hotch potch of times and seasons with an often almost random attribution of dates. Random and hotch potch might be an unfair way to describe centuries of well considered Christian tradition but we come about things slowly and by experience, we find things as it were. We find things much as these two people, waiting patiently in the precincts of the Temple, would find a young couple and a child among so many other young couples and children and know for certain and for sure that this baby, and this baby alone was the one who would make all the difference in the world.
How could that be?
So we have gone backwards from Epiphany to another baby story of revelation, yes, but a story of finding, a story of those who waited and looked for and noticed. Perhaps that is why Candlemas stands at the end of this Season of Journeys. Finally the Christ comes to the heart of His people, to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to the place where holiness lays, finally those who wait in this ancient place day after day raise their eyes to the God they serve and say Amen on their lives.
As well as being about the Jesus as a baby these stories also hold the theme of light. In colder, darker climes this has a more particular significance as with sparse daylight and the shortest days of the years the Season of coming light - Advent and then these of the arrival of the Light of the World, Christmas, of the revelation of the light - Epiphany and of the finding of the light to lighten the , Candlemas all make good sense within the Church calendar.
Light is something which we pretty much take for granted in this age of electricity. Even when the power goes out, we expect that within hours, or at most days it will be restored and, at the flick of a switch, we will be able to lighten the darkness of our world. Of course this was not always the case. Procuring light was not always so easy. Light sources were more costly, time consuming and, frankly, more dangerous. There are still plenty of areas of the world today where children go home from school to do homework by the light of lamps powered by some sort of fossil fuel or by candles which produce fumes, smoke and the of fire. One of the big development goals in many places is to seek ways to promote renewable and clean energy around children's homes and homework.
Our western relationship with light is very different to that of a first century person - hearing that a light never goes out does not seem so impossible to us - a light bulb that burns for thousands of hours has probably been invented and with a continuous energy source, why not. In the ancient world lights always went out - the sun disappeared - not to another part of the globe - but just disappeared. The moon and the stars took their turn. Candles, lamps, fires all provided temporary light against dark but all would succomb to the darkness in the end.
So for Jesus to be, in the words of John, the light of the world which the darkness would not overcome, This was something outside ordinary experience. But we probably do not hear that. Jesus is the electric lamp you can unplug and which stays on - well that ends up sounding a bit spooky and magical - but you get my drift. This is not small or ordinary.
When Simeon, who has been waiting for all these years in the Temple finally sees Jesus, he knows this is not small or ordinary. I wonder what it would take to make us feel that level of excitement about something? Look again at the words which Simeon says,
Lord, now let your servant go in peace - God now I can die happy - your Word has been fulfilled - you've done what you said you would. For I have seen with my own eyes what you promised your people Israel. Thee light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of your people Israel.
Luke records three great anthems of praise in his Gospel, on on the lips of Mary, one on the lips of Zechariah and this one on the lips of Simeon. When Thomas Cranmer wrote the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 he pulled in all sorts of pieces from the Roman Offices and into Morning and Evening Prayer put these three great songs, The Benedictus, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis. Why? Well, far be it from me to micro-analyse Cranmer, but all three of these songs are praise unleashed. They are from the heart and they bear repetition.
So again I will ask - where is it that we find our excitement. Where is it that we will be encouraged in our own prophetic voice? Where will we find the voice that expresses our excitement at the Light?
Here is the tension which Simeon expresses so well. Lord, he says, let your Servant go in peace. He knows that once he has seen the Light of Christ he is in a different place, much as we are. A changed place. A place, if you like, of no return. We know what light looks like but those who live without light have no clue that there even might be such a light and will resist the idea of such a light with all sorts of anger and ridicule.
These songs of praise are songs of God's interaction and light shining on God's people. Where can we sing in our own lives?
This weekend I was at Diocesan Convention and we sang the hymn "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence." Which is based on Isaiah's Vision in chapter 6 of that book. I found myself pulled into that place of light and reminded that we serve a God of power and light and majesty - it is a magnificent place of wonder where we are left simply to worship and adore with whatever we can manage.
Simeon waited for Jesus - waited to hail the light. We have celebrated these great festivals of light - and now, as we move into ordinary time, we carry the light differently - as part of who we are.
Simeon did not say to God that he was ready to depart because he was depressed and fed up but because , having seen the Light, he held his own life differently, that his own life was only and always in relation to The Light. This is how we live. As those who sing songs of praise to the light. As those who are prophets of the light and understand all that that means. As those who love light and are transformed by it.
Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace: your word has been fulfilled. My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people; A light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel.