Candlemas 2024

(Luke 2: 22 - 40)

I wonder if you have ever waited for something? Waited for a really long

time, for something you were really excited about; something you really

wanted?

Have you ever waited so long and so hard for something that you almost

missed it when it finally arrived? Perhaps the anticipation had led to

impossible fantasies so that the real thing almost slipped under your

radar. Or perhaps you waited for so long that your attention drifted just at

the moment you needed to be alert.

Simeon was waiting to see the Messiah. We don’t know how long he

had been waiting. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit promised it

would happen before he died, and we know he was an old man. His

song sounds like the song of someone who had been waiting a long time

– someone who had been filled with anticipation and is now filled with

long-awaited joy as he takes the infant Jesus into his arms and knows

him to be the one he has been waiting for.

It’s a little amazing to me that Simeon recognized the Messiah in the

baby Jesus at all. He must have seen lots of babies, 40 days old, carried

into the temple by insignificant but devout mothers and fathers. And was

he even looking for the Messiah in a baby? Surely, he was imagining

something a little more exciting – a great teacher or a charismatic rebel.

Surely he awoke many mornings more concerned about his aching joints

than the long-awaited promise. It is, I think, a mark of true wisdom and

discipline to not allow either your fantasies or your boredom to distract

you from what God is actually doing.

I wonder how many of God’s promises we don’t see fulfilled simply

because we aren’t paying attention or because we don’t have eyes and

hearts, like Simeon’s, prepared to see God at work in unexpected

places.

Or maybe we don’t see it because we are more comfortable in the

waiting than in uncertainty of what comes after.

There is an old tradition that today, Candlemas, is the day that really

ends the Christmas season. Today is the day when everyone’s nativity

scene should be taken down. Because today is about half-way between

Christmas and Good Friday – half-way between Jesus’ birth and Jesus’

death. So today is kind of a pivot point for the year – the day when we

turn from cradle to cross; birth to death.

Simeon’s story contains this pivot.


Holding the infant Messiah, Simeon knows his wait is over, God’s

promise to him has been fulfilled. He praises God and sings of light and

glory. And then Simeon turns to Mary and the tone changes:

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and

to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will

be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

I wonder if there wasn’t a part of Simeon that would have preferred to

just keep waiting – to hold on to the sense of hopeful anticipation rather

than the perhaps more complicated emotions after the arrival of the

Messiah.

But following Jesus is not just about Christmas – not just light and joy

and celebration. Today, we let Simeon turn us in the direction of the

cross, remembering that following Jesus is also about sacrifice and

faithfulness in the face of suffering.

Perhaps this is why Candlemas is the day on which candles are blessed,

marked as signs of the light of Christ in the world – we know we still

have need of such signs to get us through the darkness ahead.

Candlemas is, not coincidentally, also roughly half-way between the

winter solstice and the spring equinox – it’s the point at which we begin

to turn from the cold and dark of winter towards the promise of spring.

Old wisdom tells us that the weather on Candlemas predicts the season

to come. Today is the day when the end of winter is enough of a

possibility that we can begin to anticipate spring.

So, on this seasonal pivot day, we turn not simply from cradle to cross

but from cradle through cross to the empty tomb, already visible, albeit

dimly through the darkness still to come. Following Jesus is not just

about Christmas; not just about Good Friday. Following Jesus is also

about the hope and freedom of Easter.

Simeon’s song begins with a declaration of the end of his work, perhaps

even his life: “Lord, now let your servant go in peace”. His task has been

fulfilled; he has born witness to the arrival of the infant Messiah, seen

the salvation of the world. That season is over, a new season has

begun.

I wonder how Simeon felt when he woke up the day after meeting Jesus

and seeing the truth of what his future would hold. I wonder if he woke

up thinking, ‘today might be the day!” before he remembered that

yesterday had been the day, and that he would have to find something

else to do today.

I like to imagine he lit a candle, in the quiet of that winter morning, and

prayed that the light of the world would break through the darkness and

reveal to him the continuation of God’s promise. Let that be our prayer,

also, as we journey from the crib to the cross and then through the

seasons of the year and of our lives.

Amen