Materials for Worship on the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany

Ruth Burgess writes: This Sunday Night’s service will be a celebration of Candlemas, traditionally a winter festival of warmth and light.

The season of Candlemas is a time when, in the Northern hemisphere we begin to notice the days getting longer and we look out for the first signs of Spring. We begin to look for snowdrops which are sometimes called Candlemas bells.

Within the church calendar we experience Candlemas as a pivotal festival, a moment of change, which allows us a last look back at Christmas and Epiphany before looking forwards to Lent, Holy week and Easter. The Gospel reading for today includes images of both light and darkness.

In the Gospel reading for Candlemas, Luke2:22-40, we encounter Mary, Jesus and Joseph in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Matthew’s gospel tells us that the Magi met with Jesus, Mary and Joseph in a house in Bethlehem and most scholars think that they had found somewhere to stay, possibly with relatives, in Bethlehem intending to return later to their home in Nazareth.

We know that Jesus is now six weeks old, and according to Jewish law it is time for his parents to present him to God in the Temple.

Luke introduces Simeon as a devout man living in Jerusalem. Simeon may or may not have been a priest, but he was clearly at home in the Temple. All of his life he had been looking forward to the coming of the Messiah and he had been told by God, that he would see the Messiah before he died. Perhaps Simeon knew Zechariah and had heard from him about his encounter, in the Temple, with an angel. Possibly he had heard about Mary’s pregnancy and her visit to Elizabeth.

The words of Simeon as he holds Jesus in his arms are familiar to us – words that are included within the liturgy of Compline – words that tell of Jesus being a light to the gentiles and the glory of the Jewish people.

Simeon’s words to Mary point us forward to the ministry of Jesus and to the opposition to his words and deeds.

Luke also introduces us to Anna, a widow and a prophet, who like Simeon was at home in the Temple, at home in a life of worship and prayer. As Simeon cradles the child she comes over to them, and having seen Jesus she is eager to tell others about him.

This is a story that has caught the imagination of writers and artists down through the centuries. There are beautiful Candlemas stained glass windows in our cathedral which include Simeon with the child in his arms and lots of candles.

In this painting by Dinah Roe Kendall from Allegories of Heaven, the painter says that she imagines Anna saying to the crowds in the temple. ‘This is the one we’ve been waiting for. This is him!’

A poem by Malcolm Guite can also help us to reflect on the Gospel story.

They came, as called, according to the Law.
Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,
They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,
For God was coming with them to His temple.

Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle
They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,
Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,
Had made a killing on the two young doves.

They come at last with us to Candlemas
And keep the day the prophecies came true
We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,
The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.
For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,
Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright.

Tonight in church we will use music and candles to help us take a last look back at Christmas and Epiphany before we look ahead towards Lent and Easter.

You might want to light a candle and spend time with a Christmas card you received this year or sing a verse of your favourite carol.

We pray tonight that Christ may be our Light and that we may be light for others.

Longing for light, we wait in darkness.
Longing for truth, we turn to you.
Make us your own, your holy people,
light for the world to see.
Christ be our light! Shine in our hearts. Shine through the darkness.
Christ, be our light! Shine in your church gathered today.

Longing for peace, our world is troubled.
Longing for hope, many despair.
Your word alone has power to save us.
Make us your living voice.

Longing for food, many are hungry.
Longing for water, many still thirst.
Make us your bread, broken for others,
shared until all are fed.

Longing for shelter, many are homeless.
Longing for warmth, many are cold.
Make us your building, sheltering others,
walls made of living stone.

Many the gifts, many the people,
many the hearts that yearn to belong.
Let us be servants to one another,
making your kingdom come.
Bernadette Farrell

Star-maker God,
Lightener of the world,
bless us
and warm us
into light and loving.

Bring us to the light of Jesus
all the length and breadth
of our nights and days. Amen.