31 January, 2016

Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus (Candlemas) - Jesus our light

Luke 2:22-40
My eyes have seen the salvation
…prepared for all …to see,
a light to enlighten the pagans (Luke 2:29-32)
In today’s gospel we hear how the child Jesus at just six weeks of age is identified as the light of all people by the holy man Simeon and these words set the scene for our liturgy. The feast of Candlemas (the Mass of Candles) is the first of our yearly celebrations of Jesus Christ as our light – the Easter vigil being the second and more important of these occasions. At this celebration we light candles and we carry them in procession; and as we do this, as we walk perhaps a little unsure of our steps singing and praying with other faithful, we trace with our liturgy a parable of life – even the figure of eight we walked this morning is a representation of our earthly journey. Walking, candle in hand to light up our way, we remind ourselves that as Christians we cannot walk very far without Jesus as our light to guide us. But what are the characteristics of this light?

First of all, in Luke 2:32 the gospel describes Jesus as ‘a light to enlighten the pagans’ meaning that, through Our Lord, God the Father is revealed to all, not just God’s ancient people; through Jesus, our Emmanuel, God-with-us, no-one is denied to follow in the light, and everyone is given access to God. 
Secondly, Luke 2:34 says that Jesus is ‘destined to be a sign that is rejected’ and in these words we find an echo of Christmas morning’s gospel when we heard Jesus described as ‘the light of all people’ (John 1:4) who ‘came to …his own, and his own people did not accept him’ (John 1:11). Jesus as our light is indeed often rejected because he challenges the world; he wants to wake up with his brightness our societies that seem to sleepwalk into greed and self-destructing practices, but rolling back to sleep, rejecting his radiance, is for too many people a deceivingly easier way to live.
Finally, Luke 2:35 says that Jesus our light shines ‘so that the secret thoughts of many may be laid bare.’ Jesus’ brightness is able to bring to light our innermost thoughts, those secret things we hide even from ourselves, but in his blazing presence there is no fear, no shame, and no finger-pointing – regardless of how we may judge ourselves. Here Jesus doesn’t burn with condemnation, but shines so that we may see for ourselves in his light how free we could walk with him as our guide.

Today’s gospel reading remind us that Jesus is the only one able to lead us out of self-absorption into a loving relationship with God; whilst our liturgy reminds us that the path is lit and our guide is ready, we just have to trust his light and follow on until we reach our home. But in some sense gospel and liturgy only work up to a point; it is important that after we hear and do these things we let them inspire us to bring ourselves into the light of Jesus. So I leave you with the words of a hymn written by Blessed John Henry Newman – let these words be our prayer this day and always.
Lead, Kindly Light, amidst th'encircling gloom,
Lead Thou me on!
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead Thou me on!
Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene; one step enough for me.

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