At what we are now calling the contemplative service we had candles, a bit of Taize chanting, a candle-lit journey through the dim evening church into the brighter light of our circle and some thoughts on the theme of the Light of Christ…
"Today is Candlemas. Forty days after Christmas. Its the last day of Epiphany and the final end to the long season of Christmastide, which includes the expectancy of Advent, the joy and celebration of Christmas’s twelve day feast and the reflective re-ordering of this Epiphany season. Those of us who are liturgically minded now have a few short weeks of “ordinary time” before the long cycle that begins with Ash Wednesday at the beginning of March and takes us through fasting, cross, resurrection and ascension to the joyous birth of the church, a new people of God, filled with His Spirit, at Pentecost.
At Candlemas people sometimes recall the ritual purification of that Mary underwent at the temple, by way of blood sacrifice, in accordance with Levitical Law. Sometimes also people remember the “presentation” of Jesus at the Temple, which is recorded in Luke 2 – and which gives us one of the three great gospel canticles, the Nunc Dimittis, or Song of Simeon, which we shall sing together shortly.
Still other people recite folk traditions about the weather on Candlemas day, being indicative of whether Winter is mostly over, or still has a few tricks up her sleeve. It is this tradition which is taken up in the 1993 Bill Murray film; Groundhog Day, so Happy Groundhog Day too.
Groundhog Day, though a light romantic comedy, has been described as one of the most spiritual and though provoking films of its generation. In it Bill Murray’s character is a repugnantly self centred TV weatherman who seems to find himself cursed to re-live the same day of his life over and over again. Since there is no tomorrow and no consequences Bill’s character initially amuses himself with over-eating, an act of robbery and seducing a vulnerable woman. After a time the emptiness of these distractions, drives him to despair. He even seeks to escape the treadmill of repetition by suicide – ever to wake up again to the same song on the radio for the beginning once more of Groundhog Day.
One commentator has said; “The trick, as the film makes clear, is to avoid being lulled to sleep by the familiar. So long as we are alive we stand at the intersection of all our past experiences and the unwritten future.” (Tom Martinez 2011) Eventually we see him try something different. He lives out a whole day from love, putting others needs before his own. At the end of this kenotic day we see him rest contentedly tired and the next morning, the curse, (or was it a blessing?), is completed and his life carries on, forever changed by this one day.
We have celebrated Candlemas this evening as a recapitulation of the theme of the Light of Christ, which comes in the World, and into our lives. Its nice to celebrate the light of Christ, coming and come, at Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, but it is even more important for the light of Christ to take us into ordinary time. You see ordinary time, is actually the stuff of Christian life. Doing the ordinary, everyday things in the light of Christ’s revelation. And the Light of Christ illumines life in three ways…
By his own light we see Jesus. We cannot force our consciousness to have an experience of Jesus by straining our faith muscles to a great exertion of believing. No, Christ comes to us, comes gently, comes sometimes dimly at first, like a Candle from the Chancel to the Narthex. And this act of grace breeds in us both patience and wonder. My favourite theologian used to say that the Christian life is a journey in discovering and becoming a human being and we cannot become more human than our vision of Jesus.
By the light of Christ we can begin to see ourselves as we really are. Some Christian traditions appear, to my misinformed view, to take a perverse joy in seeing ourselves and more likely our neighbours as worse than one can possibly imagine. As if God was capable of all the loathing and hatred that they feel in their own hearts, but to an infinite scale. My own experience of the light of Christ, is that in Him, and by His Spirit, we find our chin gently lifted up, and we find ourselves in a safe and honest place to grow in love.
By the light of Christ we see the world. Jesus is the light of the World, and in His light we can see the world as it really is, and as it is really becoming.
An exercise. We can invoke the light of Christ into our daily vision. Take a moment next time you see someone. It could be someone you have loved for 38 years, or someone you have seen for the first time on the bus, or perhaps someone you have fallen out with recently. You might be thinking of someone right now. Bring to mind the light of Christ. One way to do this is to sing “The Light of Christ” in your mind’s ear, or out loud if you are really weird. Or just imagine those six notes of the melody. It almost makes you smile just to hear them. In the light of Christ our eyes soften and we find ourselves emptied a little of hurt, anxiety or fear, and filled a little with Jesus’ love, joy, peace, kind-heartedness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, against which there is no law.
And as we heard in the Hebrews reading, in the light of Christ, there is freedom from the fear which drives us into sin, the fear at the root of all selfishness, unkindness and the basis of the whole world’s way of doing things.
The light of Christ has come into the world. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we are joined to one another, and the blood of Jesus, the Son, purifies us from all sin. (1 John 1:7).