Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Candlemas Light

In seven weeks spring will officially be here. This is hard to imagine right now as we emerge from another winter storm, this one with especially cold temperatures and wind chills. Despite the biting cold and recent snow, though, on sunny days the sunshine feels warmer than it did in early January. The days are getting longer, and once we pass Candlemas, which is today, the increasing light will become more obvious.

In the Church, February 2 is the Presentation of our Lord, when we remember Mary and Joseph presenting the baby Jesus at the temple forty days after his birth. Luke’s account of this event tells about Simeon and Anna recognizing the baby as the Savior, the Messiah. Simeon says this child is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles”. This day is also known as Candlemas and as the Purification of Saint Mary the Virgin. Some churches still bless new candles on this day or have a special candlelight procession.

This point forty days after the Nativity is nearly midway between the dates we use now for the beginning of winter and the beginning of spring. Some old calendars considered this to be the beginning of spring, and in places with milder winters, early February in a normal year can seem like the beginning of spring. Sometimes even here in Nebraska we can sense spring coming on this date.

Luke tells us that Simeon looked forward to “the consolation of Israel”. Despite the darkness of many things in his world, Simeon had faith that he would see the Messiah before he died. When he saw the infant Jesus, he knew that this was the light for which he had waited. Until the Holy Spirit guided him to the temple that day, Simeon didn’t know where or when or how he would see the Messiah, only that this would happen before he died.

In this week of extreme weather here in the United States and in other places, most notably Queensland, where a huge cyclone named Yasi threatens an area already devastated by floods, it’s sometimes hard to find faith that we will see the light. There is some expectation that Cyclone Yasi may be the biggest cyclone ever to hit Australia. Given that these sorts of mega-storms are exactly what climate scientists predicted would happen as global temperatures rise, what we are experiencing in our northern hemisphere winter and in the southern summer may well be the new normal. It’s sometimes very hard to find hope that we will find our way out of the dark future we would face if global warming is generally ignored and allowed to continue to accelerate.

For people of faith, though, there is always a light of hope even if we can’t imagine how or when we will see the changes for which we are waiting and for which many of us are working. Just as most of the people in the temple that day didn’t recognize that Mary’s baby was different from any other baby brought to the temple forty days after being born, it may be that most of us won’t recognize it when things begin to change for the better. But we continue to pray that there will some shift in political will or in the consciousness of enough of the world’s people that we can learn to live together on this planet with clean air and water, oceans that can support living things, and a global climate that is stable enough to sustain civilized human life.

Meanwhile, while we wait and pray and work this month in the northern hemisphere, we will see more light with longer days and the sun a bit higher in the sky. May this be a sign of hope for us and give us faith to do the joyful work of caring for our world!

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