Homily for Candlemas
Forty (40). The number of humanity’s struggle toward perfection. Our wrestling not with flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Forty. The number which denotes our purification, scraping off the rough edges, smoothing of the crooked places, scrubbing off our impurities and sins so that we might stand holy and without blemish before Our Lord God. 40 days. The waiting time. The time we wait for the Lord’s grace to guide us through, to make the way of escape, so that we may be rescued from the perils of our own sins. And so, 40 is the time of patience.
For 40 days, St Simeon has been patiently waiting. He has heard that the holy girl he and Anna once mentored has given birth to the Messiah. Simeon knows that, according to the custom of the Law, she will present the Holy Child in the Holy Temple. But he must wait. 40 days. The time of patience. The time when he enters deeply into prayer so that he is not distracted, but can be focused, fully present, when the Christ Child arrives.
And when the Child arrives, imagine the joy. Not just the joy of seeing the happiness on the face of these parents. And not just the joy of holding a newborn. Consider the joy of St Simeon, who has waited for the Consolation of Israel; who had waited patiently to see the Lord’s Christ; who had believed God’s promise, and now was eager not just to hear, but to see and hold the fulfillment.
Consider old St Simeon, both seeing and then getting to hold this Holy Infant. His joy and wonderment and awe exceed everything we feel when we get to hold a newborn. He is ecstatic; truly beside himself with delight. And not just because the old man holds new life, which gives hope for the future. But because this old man gets to carry the King of the universe. He gets to hold the Lord of heaven and earth. He beholds and nestles God Himself.
The blessed candles you held when I read the Gospel—those candles let you, for a moment, be Simeon. They let you, in a visual symbol, hold Christ Himself. For who is Jesus? He is the light of all humanity; the light which shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overwhelm it. And we don’t just say as if it’s a nice metaphor. Jesus calls Himself the Light of the world. He says: “I am the light of the world. He whofollows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life. If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world.”
What does this mean, that Jesus is the Light of the world? It means that Our Lord Jesus chases away the confusion the devil plants; that He scatters the dark fears and designs of our mind; that He helps us see what is good and holy and right, even when it conflicts with what we want. But most of all, this Light which is Jesus—by His Spirit He purifies, and burns away, and refines our vision of Truth and Good so that we may be enabled to discern whatever is pleasing to God and profitable for our salvation.
Think of the other time we carry candles. They are unlit as we walk into church. Only the large candle shines on that dark night—the large candle that we give thanks for when we hear the words, “Lumen Christi; The Light of Christ.” We walk together into the church led by the candle, from which all other candles are lit. And we do this precisely because Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead means that death has passed over us; that death no longer has a claim on us; that the grave is not the end but the hallway to our full and abundant life in God. That candle at the Paschal Vigil proclaims, without words, that our salvation has been won, and that the dark night of Good Friday has led us to the glorious light of Easter.
That’s what St Simeon sees when he holds the Infant Jesus. He sees not just a baby, but the Lord of Life. Not just another child, but his way—and our way—out of this world’s fakeness, this world’s empty promises, this world’s dreariness, and this world’s death. And so Simeon cries out, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation!” For he sees, lying in his arms, snuggled to his chest, the Savior Himself and his salvation.
The lighted candle you hold is very much like the 40-day old Baby which Simeon held. Both are vulnerable, a bit annoying to hold, needing our attention, and easily ignored on our way to other things. Yet if you are attentive, if you see what you really have, if you see beyond the candle to the reality that this little flame proclaims, then you can enter into the joy of St Simeon; then this day is as joyous for you as it was for Simeon and Anna.
Yet you have something much more than Simeon and Anna had. And you get to hold the Christ Child much closer than they did. For they could only carry Jesus in their arms. You get to carry Him in your heart. They could only make their arms and body a shelter. You get to make a soft and undefiled bed within the secret chamber of your mind and soul. They could only coo at the Blessed Child and see what would be. You get to have Him enter more deeply into you in the Eucharist, and you get to see what already is.
And as you do—as you enter more deeply into Christ, and as He scatters the dark night of your soul—then the words Simeon proclaims, and the words that Jesus says about Himself: these words now become true for you. For it is not only Christ Jesus who is the light of the nations, the light of the world. Jesus also says that those who hold Him dear, who feed on Him and carefully tend the light that He is and gives: these also are lights to the world. For listen to His words: You are the light of the world. So let light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
And for now, that happens during our 40 days. During our time of patience. During this day, this week, this year, this lifetime when we struggle toward perfection. During the days that God has graciously given us, now in this life, to scrape off the rough edges and scrub away our impurities so that we might stand holy and without blemish before Our Lord God; to whom, with His Son, the Lord of light, together with the Holy Spirit, belongs all glory, honor, and worship: now and ever, and unto the ages of ages.