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1st February 2015 - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for the Eve of Candlemas
Haggai 2. 1-9
John 2. 18 - 22




Tomorrow - 2 Feb is the Feast of Candlemas - The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. This is the moment that we celebrate and remember at every evensong and at most funerals too when we remember the song of Simeon - known to us better as the Nunc Dimitis "Now let us depart". We sing it as a sign of hope that deep in the darkness, there is always a glimmer of light.

In pre-christian times this day was known as the Feast of Lights - celebrating that, from about now, the Sun - which has been steadily declining in strength and warmth through the season of winter, now begins to strengthen and - whatever the weather outside - we know that a corner has been turned and spring is on the way. We have the evidence of the snowdrops outside this church and in the vicarage garden -( and no doubt in some of your gardens too) - to reassure us of this fact. Sometimes these flowers are called Candlemas Bells - a very pretty name for a delightful and most welcome little plant

Later it also became the day when the year's supply of candles (which folk had been busily making from the rendered fat of pigs etc., or - for the more wealthy - from beeswax ) were brought into church to be blessed.

Candles were important in those days, not only because there was no electric light to switch on in a flick. They were also thought to provide some protection against plague, illness and famine. So no wonder people wanted them blessed!
For Christians, they were - and still are - a reminder of another and greater truth. Before Jesus was born, it was as though people were in darkness - lost, lonely and afraid, without anyone to help them. Then came Jesus with his message of light and love, and that he is always with those who believe in him - ready to comfort and help. That is a message of hope and comfort that will be especially difficult to make heard at the funeral of little Harper Rollings this coming week - and yet it is the only message that I can possibly bring to her family as they mourn the second stillbirth that they have had to suffer.

But Christ is there as a guiding light to us in the darkness - which is why we light them in Church services, to remind ourselves of this fact.

The prophet Haggai remembered a time of darkness when the Temple of the Israelites was in ruins and desolation. But through Zerrubbabel, Joshua and even the Persian king - Darius, God was working to restore his place of worship in Jerusalem. And what is held out is a vision of splendour and light - and while the candles are not mentioned specifically, we can think of a glorious building adorned with silver and gold - that would gleam and sparkle in the light of candles and oil lamps as the priests once again offered sacrificial worship to their God.

Jesus too speaks of a temple that is destroyed, only to be built up again. This was one of the most contentious things that Jesus could possibly say - that he was capable of raising God's temple in just three days - no wonder that some who heard him thought he must be mad and dangerous as well. They had been hard at work for nearly fifty years and the Temple was still not finished - how could he possibly rebuild it from scratch in just three days? With the benefit of hindsight, we - the Easter people - can interpret this passage quite differently. We know that even though the light is temporarily extinguished - that Jesus is put to death on the cross - in three days God will raise him up again and - because of that fact that we begin from today to think of more and more as we turn towards Easter and away from Christmas, because of that resurrection, we are no longer in darkness. We have the eternal light of Jesus Christ to guide and comfort us. So we meet today, not in a Temple, but in a Church - for Christ himself is our Temple he is the person in whom we identify the presence of God and he is always available to us - whether we are in a special place of prayer, at home, at work, at school, or in the wide world that is just as much God's Creation.

At the heart of the snowdrop - candlemas bell - is a secret, green place - reminding us of the coming of spring, symbol of God's renewing love. From tomorrow the church will be dressed in green - leaving the white of snow and the Christmas Season behind. As we remember the promise of spring, so let us also remember the promise of hope that so delighted the old man, Simeon, so many years ago.... and help us to believe and to share that hope with others as we journey through the week ahead.

Promise of Spring
Pale winter sun,
flooding the earth,
with your light,
gilding the bare trees
with your touch.
Your eyes have seen
the glory of the Lord.

Low white candles of hope
palely gleaming in the dark earth,
your advent heralds
the promise of spring;
your green hearts
speak of God's renewing love.

Son of God,
show us the way.
Light our path.
Lead us through the coming Lenten desert
to Easter with you
beyond the pain of loss and fear.
Lead us in new ways
of trusting service

Amen.