Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
The candles that we light and hold in our hand during the liturgy of the blessing of candles are not just adornments. Before the advent of natural gas and electricity, candles had the practical purpose of providing light in dark places. But, in church, the practical almost always has additional layers of meaning behind it's use. When we hold the hand held candles, we are reminded of several things.
For example, when any one is baptized, a lit candle is presented to the family of the baptized. Instruction in the form of a suggestion is offered by the pastor, that on the anniversary of the baptism, the candle should be brought out and lit in order to remind the growing child that he or she is a baptized child of God. Most often when the lit candle is presented to the newly baptized, a Bible verse accompanies the giving of the candle. Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, in particular Matthew 5:14-16.
You are the light of the world. A city build on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lamp stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
We bear the individual candle because we bear Jesus.
Jesus is the light of the world. John 1 says of Jesus:
He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
We begin our liturgy outside the Nave in order to affirm that we are fully human as Joseph and Mary are. We too are unclean. We are all sinners who fall short of the expectations of God. None of us are worthy to be in the presence of God. On this day, we note that Mary, according the instruction of Leviticus 12, needed to receive a special ritual blessing and declaration that she was ritually clean, before moving further into the Temple area.
Is it not Mary's son, Jesus, who because he is God Incarnate and who because he dies on the cross for all of us, that we are able to be in God's Holy presence at all? On account of Jesus' obedience and sacrificial death on the cross, our Heavenly Father looks upon us, as forgiven, beloved, and most welcome.
When we process into the nave we do so with the full knowledge that we are accompanying Joseph and Mary and Jesus into God's house. Jesus, the light of the world, the one no darkness can overcome, beckons us in.
Simeon and Anna moved by the Holy Spirit recognize the Christ in Mary's arms. They offer their blessing and praise to be in the presence of the Christ child. Simeon's words come down to us through the ages.
Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.
Simeon's hopes are fulfilled in his arms. He holds the Christ child, the salvation of the world. The one who will bring peace through reconciliation and forgiveness of sins.
When we hold the lit candles in our hands in church on Christmas Eve or on the Presentation of our Lord or at the Easter Vigil, we bear witness to Christ who is the light of the world. Psalm 36:9 says "For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light."
In Christ's light, we see ourselves, our world, our future. We see sinners who are redeemed. We see a future that is filled with the hope of God.
All God's people say...Amen.