Sermon Archives

Tuesday, February 2, 2016
Feast of the Presentation (Year C)
The Reverend Areeta Bridgemohan, Curate
Candlemass 2016

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight oh Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.

Today we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation which invites us to remember the day that Mary and Joseph visited the Temple to present their first-born son to God. In accordance with Jewish law, they presented Jesus on the 40th day following his birth, and Mary underwent postpartum rites of cleansing.

Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary sacrificed a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons, which was the sacrificial option provided for poor people (that is, those who could not afford a lamb).

Simeon and Anna see with utmost clarity through the poverty of Mary and Joseph to the richness of the blessing of their child. Although Simeon and Anna were not official leaders in the temple, they were given the gift of bearing witness to Jesus’ identity, in the place where they went to wait for God.

Over time some churches began to mark Simeon’s proclamation of Jesus as a light for revelation to the Gentiles with a celebration of light, which became known as the Candle Mass. During the service, people would bring their candles and priests would bless them for the year to come. In the Northern Hemisphere, this feast coincides with the turn toward spring and lengthening of light, bringing together changes in the natural world at this time of year with the story of Jesus.

At the beginning of my journey as an Episcopalian, the first non-Sunday service that I began regularly attending was Wednesday evensong, where at every service we sang the nunc dimmitis – or the Song of Simeon, which we heard today in the Gospel reading. In his song, Simeon says: “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised.”

When I first heard the canticle, I thought Simeon was saying that he could leave the Temple in Jerusalem, but when I actually read the passage we read today I understood that Simeon was talking about his life. He was saying that he was now ready to die because his purpose in life, that which he had been waiting for and longing for, had been fulfilled. He had seen the Saviour.

Looking at death head on and being able to say “I am ready to die” reflects an extraordinary clarity of vision and a profound peace. Death is something that makes many of us uncomfortable; we know it is there but we often glance away from it anxiously.

This past Sunday both Rev’d Vicki and Rev’d Keith made references to their experiences as hospital chaplains, which is a formation requirement in many dioceses for ordination.

A number of the classes during the hospital chaplaincy program that I did dealt with death and dying. For one of the class activities, we were asked to spend a few minutes imagining the worst possible death for us. Once we had written that down, we were asked to spend a few minutes imagining the best possible death for us. We were then asked to share our responses with each other.

That activity was liberating. That process of thinking about my own death in these two scenarios, melted a fear and anxiety that I didn’t even know I was carrying around. We were given permission to voice our darkest fears, but we also received the insight that death can be experienced in so many different ways, and that there are ways that can be good.

This realization helped me to see that in accompanying patients that were dying and their families, a gift that we, as chaplains, could offer was a sign of hope that there is such a thing as a good death. We could support those we were caring for to find light in the midst of darkness. Just by our presence and listening to the stories that become so important to tell at those moments, we could affirm that even in dying, God is present, speaking through the deepest desires and longings of our hearts.

In the Feast of the Presentation, we celebrate the light that the birth of our Saviour brings into the brokenness of the world we live in. Candles have a particularly evocative way of communicating this to us. Our services, whether it’s the daily offices or the Eucharist, include candles, reminding us of the sacred present among us. Candle-light vigils are often organized to create a sacred space, a space to grieve and heal, especially in the aftermath of tragedy – whether it is a World AIDS day vigil, a vigil to remember those killed in mass shootings or victims of natural disasters. There is something powerful about standing there in the darkness, holding a candle - a flickering yet bright sign of life side by side with others who share in that same sadness of loss and desire for hope.

The word vigil comes from the Latin vigilia which means wakefulness. Anna and Simeon were waiting for the revelation of the Lord, and they probably didn’t know what shape or form this would take, but they knew when they saw the baby. They were both elderly, they had witnessed major changes in the world around them, mourned the loss of loved ones and celebrated births among their family and friends. But they also continued to patiently wait for the revelation of God in their lives. Like candles burning brightly in the darkness, they were trusting of God’s promise to them, until they received the gift they had been longing for. They recognized the Saviour in the form of a baby born in poverty. In that baby they saw the promise of redemption for the whole world being fulfilled.

As we hold candles here tonight, side by side, we remember that we too are called to represent the light of Christ shining in the darkness of the world. We are also called to recognize the light of Christ in the world, sometimes shining in unexpected places.

May God grant us the grace to share the light of Christ with others and to recognize the countless ways in which God continues to meet us in our lives. Amen.