I don’t know about you, but I have really had enough of winter. Cold, bone-chilling, damp, and dark, above all dark. I am having a difficult time with the dark. There hardly seems any daylight at all. And although we have passed the Winter solstice, December 21, the longest night of the year, and theoretically, daylight gets a nano-second longer each passing day, with all the cloud cover these winter days, who can tell? It takes all my strength to get up in the morning, and not, as is my natural inclination, roll over and settle in for a long winter’s nap, joining the bears I love to collect in hibernation!
In the midst of this dark winter season, the Feast of the Presentation, which we celebrate today, and indeed this entire epiphany season, proposes light, and not just a little light in the corner but abundant light which extends to the ends of the created order!
One of the hallmarks of this feast has been the blessing of candles and candle-lit processions, as symbols of the light of world, our savior Jesus Christ. He is the light that cannot be extinguished — the light that shines in the darkness of a rather barren world. It is into this frozen and dark world that we most need this light and the message of blessed Simeon and Anna.
We live in a world that has always been in the throes of a winter of the spirit. Sufferings and injustices have an icy grip on the human race freezing it and numbing it. The world is colorless and cold for many who inhabit it. And for all, it is difficult to find our way.” Most of us have had times in our lives where everything we trusted in seems to have been blown away. Our long held beliefs and values that we have cherished are called into question, and what we thought was reality disintegrates before our eyes.
Simeon and Anna knew such an existence. They had been waiting long. Anna, for eighty four years — each day begun in hope that the world would change — fasting and praying — turning her sorrow and loss into a posture of hope for the future. And Simeon, old and tired, approaching death — yet clinging to life on the promise that he would see the salvation of his world — the Messiah of Israel.
The prophet Malachi offered a message of hope to Anna and Simeon. “The Lord whom you seek, shall suddenly come to this temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of Hosts.” (Mal. 3:1). But mixed with these words is also a warning — a warning that waiting can be like a refining process.
The hearers of Malachi would have felt the longing for the new world that the Lord was to bring, but also the sting of reality in the ways that their own lives would need refining. The central theme of Malachi (which literally means “My Messenger”) is fidelity to the covenant and its teaching and that worship of the Lord be true and real. The prophet rebels against corruption among the priests and leaders saying it is easy to go through the motions of “right” worship and leadership, but have it mean nothing. It is easy to ignore the work that God is doing in and through you — and close your eyes to seeing and hearing what the Lord is asking you to do. Time and again other prophets have asked: “Is such the fast that I choose?” “Look, you serve your own interests on your fast day, and oppress all your workers.” Refinement and Hope — two different conditions, yet joined into one.
Vaclav Havel speaks about Hope: he calls it “an orientation of the spirit, of the heart.” To orient oneself is literally to set oneself towards the rising sun, thus “Hope is a stance in life, a turning toward something that is true, the sun of justice in Malachi’s word — the truth of the Lord. Anna and Simeon knew this stance; they were oriented in God — rooted in God’s promises. Every thing about them was open to God, and the wonders of God’s work. Faithfully they reflected to their world the light of God that burned within them.”
The feast of the Presentation is yet another Epiphany in this season of epiphanies. Another celebration of the fact that God does not leave us to make our own way in this dark and frozen world. That he has sent his son — the one whom we seek, and who seeks us — into the world to make it new — and this is itself a refining and transforming experience.
There are no disinterested observers here, because it is precisely those who have eyes (or who are given eyes to see) who experience them. The presence of Jesus — the Messiah draws a response, a new purpose in life; a prophetic vision unleashes the impulse to justice; the enactment of true justice inspires allegiance and faithfulness. This day focuses the light that allows us to see and be changed, as God changed the world by dwelling among us.
This light of love that is the Christ is a transforming light, a light that pierces the barriers and protective shells we set up for ourselves that separate and isolate us from one another. It is a healing light, a light that soothes and heals our hurt and pain, our fears and sorrow, our shame and guilt that for so long has been hidden away. It is a forgiving light, a light that shows our weaknesses and failings and yet accepts us as we are. And, it is a light of hope and joy, a light from which we can draw strength in times of struggle and turmoil and be fortified to do God’s will. It is a light that makes all things possible.
You may have noticed that there were no candles distributed this morning — for you are the candles — the candles present before God’s altar this Candlemas. We have been brought here, as Anna and as Simeon were, by the Holy Spirit to be more firmly grounded in our hope, to be set aflame once again by the Light of Christ — the morning star and light of love.
The world in which we live is indeed in the grip of a winter of the soul — A winter that we can no longer ignore. As people of faith — as people who say we believe in the gospel of the Prince of peace — we must act, for now is the time of our refining. If we truly do believe in Christ there can be no alternative but to walk the way of peace and for us to take up Simeon’s prayer to be a light to the nations — for as each of us is lit aflame by the love of Christ, so together we must light up the world. This is my firmest belief and my prayer. God has given us the tools and the power, the question is do we have the will?
Each and every Christian must look beyond our narrow loyalties to the worldwide vision of God. Today we are offered an opportunity to transcend our narrow vision and embrace God’s point of view. God cares about the whole world and offers a vision of world salvation. One that includes rather than excludes; one that welcomes rather than shuts out. A vision in which the least expected, the least accepted, has a voice, and place, and role.
As followers of Jesus we have a sense of purpose that goes beyond the narrow allegiance of family, corporation, nation, economic or social system. The new life that we claim in and through Jesus the Christ impels us to a larger allegiance to the kingdom of God. That allegiance frees us to be truly human, and humane, in all that we do. We live our lives, at home, in business, and in government, with this larger, greater vision. The dark and frozen world around us may tell us to look out simply for ourselves and our own, but God has a larger purpose in mind; and strengthened in his love and faithfulness we each have our part.
I would like to leave you with the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero (whose life is commemorated by a statue in the Narthex of this Cathedral):
“Dear Christians, we are all the new creation. The world will not be renewed without us. We are responsible for the renovation of the world. Since the day of his resurrection Christ’s kingdom has been in the midst of humanity. The kingdom of God is already being built on this earth. To preach a church with only an afterlife is to falsify the kingdom of God. The kingdom that Christ preached and established is precisely that creation of his breath. It is made up of those pilgrims who traverse the earth with the responsibility of transforming history into the kingdom of God. We do not aspire to temporal power. . . . [We] only need hearts converted to Christ, purified like clean vessels so that the new life Christ initiated might descend upon them.”
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servants depart in peace, according to thy word; for our eyes have seen thy salvation . . .”