Thought for the Week - Candlemas 2024
In 1979 the John Le Carre novel, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy was dramatised as a 7 part TV series, starring Sir Alec Guiness as George Smiley. The haunting theme tune, written by Geoffrey Burgon, is the Nunc Dimittis, sung by Paul Phoenix and the boys of St Paul’s Cathedral Choir. The words are those of the Song of Simeon – the Nunc Dimittis, from the Latin of the first line: Nunc Dimittis servum tuum Domine, secundum verbuum tuum, in pace. I think they are beautiful words, encapsulating exactly why Jesus was born. And though there are so many different translations of the Bible, for me, the New King James Version is by far the best for this particular passage. Maybe that’s because I do prefer Thee, Thy, Thine etc or maybe it’s because that is the version I recall singing at school. And because of the implications of peace and rest, since the fourth century the Nunc Dimittis is most often said at the end of the day, at services such as Compline, Vespers or Evensong.
The words of the Nunc Dimittis were spoken by Simeon, described as a righteous and devout man of Jerusalem. He, along with Anna, as elderly prophetess, had been waiting patiently, for years, for the coming Messiah. We can learn two things from this little piece of the scenario:
First – much focus is on the youth and families of our Parish, and in the church in general, and quite rightly so. But we must never forget that we can learn a great deal from the older members of our church family, who have so much to offer; life experiences, journeys of faith, joys and regrets, from which we can all learn.
Second – waiting with patience. We may feel that we wait forever for God to deliver on His promises and may become susceptible to doubt. While doubt can be healthy, leading to a deeper understanding of God, we must remember that God’s timing is perfect, and when He deems that the time is right, He will deliver. For Simeon, Anna and the entire world, the time had finally arrived with the birth of Jesus.
In the gospel story for Candlemas, Mary and Joseph were observing the Mosaic law by bringing Jesus to the Temple for His presentation and for the purification of Mary. The prescribed sacrificial offerings were a lamb for a burnt offering and a dove, or pigeon, for a sin offering. If a lamb was too costly for the family, then a second bird would suffice. That Luke intentionally references two birds in his recounting of this story points to Jesus’ humble beginnings. The Lord of Lords came to dwell among, and be part of, the poorest of the land. This little passage also emphasizes that even though Jesus is the Son of God, He and His family are not above the law – Jesus having been circumcised at 8 days old and now His presentation at the Temple.
When Simeon speaks the word of the Nunc Dimittis, he is essentially asking for God to now let him die in peace, as he has finally seen the Messiah. However, it could be
interpreted that he is also asking that the age to which he, Simeon, belongs can finally depart, as Jesus’ birth heralds a new age which will bring with it a new covenant – fulfilled by the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Simeon continues, clarifying that Jesus is salvation for ALL – gentiles as well as Jews. ‘To be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.’ Luke, himself a gentile, ensured that his gentile readers would understand and rejoice in this fact too.
Simeon’s parting words to the Holy Family suggest that Jesus will be a paradox. Some will fall because of Him and some will rise. There will be no middle ground; people will either joyfully accept Him or totally reject Him. And the sword that will pierce Mary’s heart? Many suggest that this is the cross.
This weekend we are observing the Feast of the Presentation of Christ, also known as Candlemas, which falls on February 2nd. This date represents 40 days from 25th December, Christmas Day - the birth of Jesus. As an aside, weather lore states ‘if Candlemas Day be fair and bright, winter will have another fight. If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain, winter won’t come again.’ We shall see……..
Traditionally, at Candlemas, candles are blessed in the church and then those candles are used for the rest of the year. This is symbolic of Jesus being the Light of the World.
Jesus is the Light of the World. The light to lighten the gentiles. He is the light in our lives. He died for our sins and wants to bring joy and peace into our now, and into our future.
We can share this gift, regardless of our age. As Rev Dr Steve Griffiths of St Andrew’s in Enfield so beautifully writes, we should ‘Be the light of the world. Shine in the darkness as Jesus has chosen (us) to do. (We) are the light of the world. (We must) Believe it……and be it…….’