Year A; The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple; 2.2.2020, (Candlemas); Luke 2:22-40

 

One of the very first pastoral calls I made as a priest to a dying person was to the hospital bedside of Harry Cutchen. Ginny, his spouse, called to say he was dying. This was in Rocky Mount, North Carolina where the Cutchins’s were members of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church. Ginny, Virginia, was deeply religious. Harry was not.

I was fresh from seminary where every single evening we had gathered in the chapel for Evensong. And every single evening we said the Song of Simeon from Luke’s gospel, chapter 2. “Lord, you now have set your servant free…” I hadn’t realized that I had committed it to memory until I stood at Harry’s bedside and started to say it. The words just came to me and seemed to be a relief to this aged, dying, non-believing man.

He was unconscious. I took his hand and said, “Harry, it’s Carolyn from Church. I’m going to take your hand and say a prayer, ‘Lord, you now have set your servant free, to go in peace as you have promised; for these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see. A light to enlighten the nations and the glory of your people, Israel.’”

By the time I arrived home, there was a message waiting for me from Ginny. Harry had died peacefully after I’d left.

I think that’s what must have happened to Simeon after the Spirit revealed the infant Savior to him that day in the Temple. Simeon had been waiting for the redemption and consolation of God’s people, and virtually broke into a song of relief and joy at the sight of the infant Jesus, for he was the long-expected redeemer who was to save God’s people.

I love this Gospel story because it features two very senior and deeply faithful people – we call them “Grand friends” here – they had waited patiently all their lives for the good news of God’s in-breaking into the world to shine a light into the terrible darkness.

There is another very senior person in this story. Her name was Anna. She was 84 years-old and a widow who lived almost a monastic life in the Temple praying and fasting. She is the only female prophetess named in the New Testament.

Both Simeon and Anna hoped for the promised in-breaking of God’s realm into their world. Both were led by the Spirit to recognize that this infant being brought in to the Temple by his parents was the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord, sent from God. Both gave glory to God for this revelation.

And, we don’t know this, but the story implies it – that both might easily have “departed in peace because they had seen the savior…” Perhaps that is what happened to Harry Cutchin at his time of death. Maybe he “departed in peace…” in the presence of the light of Jesus. Might that be the promise for us all at our “conclusion?”

Today, February 2 is the day that the Church from the very earliest times celebrates the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple. If you count it, February 2 is 40 days after Christmas. It was the religious law that a mother was to spend 40 days in purification after the birth of her first born son before the parents take him to the Temple for presentation to God. The Presentation was a ritual that created a covenant with God by circumcision. It was a day of thanksgiving.

Today is also called “Candlemas.” This is the ancient holy day in which God’s light is celebrated and blessed. In some ancient European communities, families brought all the household candles for the year to church where the priest would bless them. Because Simeon first declared the infant Jesus to be “…the light to enlighten the nations…”, candles and lamps are the symbols for this holy day.

  • AND YOU THOUGHT FEBRUARY 2 WAS GROUNDHOG DAY! AND YOU THOUGHT FEBRUARY 2, 2020 WAS SUPER BOWL SUNDAY WHEN SURELY MY CHILDHOOD TEAM, THE KANSAS CITY CHIEFS WILL WIN!

Light is indeed an extremely important symbol for people of faith. Aren’t we symbolizing the light with our glow sticks today? And with these votive candles? Don’t we look forward to turning out the lights on Christmas Eve and lighting our individual candles?

And doesn’t the light mean hope in the midst of darkness? I always wear this bracelet with the words from John’s gospel on it, “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it.” Jesus’ ministry was to heal many a blind person so that they could see the light. Giving sight was a result of his healing.

What does light mean to us today? Where do we see the light shining in our community? Light has an ethical meaning to it. One of Dr. Martin Luther King’s most famous quotes teaches us about light. He said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” People of good works are called righteous people of the light and they radiate this light in their good works, in their truth and their demonstrations of compassion.

Sitting with us today are guests from five local non-profit agencies whom we could call people of the light. They are here because we wish to thank them for the light they shed on the neediest people of our community and beyond.

Independence Association is here. Ray Nagel, thank you, your staff, your volunteers and your board for decades of shining light on individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism. “Jesus said, ‘Do unto others as you would have them to unto you.’” (Matthew 7:12) You live this.

Oasis Free Clinic is here. Thank you Anita Huff, your staff, volunteers and board for shining your light to give free medical and dental services to those who have no health insurance in our community. “And [Jesus] took them in his arms and began blessing them, laying hands on them [for healing].” (Mark 10:16)

Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program is here. Thank you Karen Parker, your staff, volunteers and board for shining your light on those who are hungry in our community. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Matthew 5:6)

Tedford Housing is here. Rota Knott, welcome to Brunswick! She is in her third week as the Executive Director of Tedford Housing. Thank you, your staff, volunteers and board for shining your light on those who have no shelter. Jesus said, “What you do for the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”  (Matthew 25:40)

The Gathering Place is here. I’m so glad to see you, Mary Connolly. Thank you, your volunteers and your board for your great gift of friendship and shelter to those during the day who have no place to go. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:3)

Many of us might believe that we are living in a very dark and scary time right now, that there are few people we can trust or count on for compassion and help. But I say, look around you right now and raise your glow stick to remind us all of the light that these righteous people and their organizations have shone in this community with their works of compassion and service. Let us all say, Thank you!  THANK YOU!