Friday, 8 February 2019

Shine as a Light in the World

First preached as a sermon at the Parish Eucharist at Croydon Minster, on the feast of Candlemas, the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. The readings were Malachi 3.1-5 and Luke 2.22-40.

‘Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’.


‘In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day’. (Genesis 1.1-5)

Spirit, water and light all feature in those opening verses of the book of Genesis.

Since our celebration of the birth of Christ some 40 days ago Spirit, water and light have been features of our reflections, because a New Creation has been inaugurated.

The Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove on Jesus at his baptism in the river Jordan; water transformed into wine at the wedding feast of Cana; light that shone out from the crib of Bethlehem drawing the Magi, who followed the light of the star, to Christ.

And Spirit, water and light connect to our celebration today of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

In the beginning, the Creator Spirit of God moved over the swirling waters bringing light and life and beauty: the same Spirit bound together and gave life to the dry bones in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of death; the same Spirit overshadowed Mary that she might be the mother of the Saviour; the same Spirit empowered the disciples, as the Church, to take the Good News to the ends of the earth; the same Spirit was poured out on each of us when we were baptised and leads, guides and equips us now; the same Spirit makes present Jesus for us in word and sacrament, and in our daily lives. And it was the same Holy Spirit who brought Simeon to the Temple on the day that Jesus was presented there, following Law and Custom.

Water is the source and signifier of life. Where there is water there is life. The Temple in Jerusalem, where Jesus was presented, sat on a great wellspring, and valleys run out from there; hence another vision of Ezekiel when water flows out of the Temple bringing life to everything it touches, even into the waters of the Dead Sea, that becomes teeming with fish.

The psalm says ‘With you, O Lord, is the well of life and in your light do we see light.’ (Psalm 36.9)

Icon of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Jesus is both light and life. This is what Simeon sees in him. Simeon, as we know, has been longing for this promise. He sees Jesus in the arms of Mary and Joseph and with joy, and perhaps some relief, he says,

‘Lord, I, your servant, can now die in peace because your word has been fulfilled. I have seen the light which is the salvation of all nations and the glory of Israel’. (Paraphrase of the Nunc Dimittis, Luke 2:29–32)

And Anna, who knew the sorrow of bereavement and grief, also sees new hope, new promise, light and life in this child.

In the midst of the beauty of this light there are dark words as Mary is warned that a sword will pierce her heart. What can this mean? Perhaps it wasn’t until her Son was arrested, beaten and led to the cross that she came to know.

The darkness of the world, its power games, manipulations and dis-ease intrudes on this scene. Sin stalks our world.

Yet this is why Christ came; to bring deliverance from sin, from the cold, gripping darkness that stifles life and light and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Yet Christ’s light shone out even on the cross; his death is the fulfilment of his glorification. The scene recalled at Candlemas has rightly been called bittersweet.

Today then we move from crib to cross, from Bethlehem to Calvary, Incarnation to Redemption. At the end of our liturgy a procession will move from our crib to the font of this church.

 As we turn to face the font we will be bearing candles as a sign of the light of Christ. At that fountain and well of life in Christ our candles will be extinguished. The extinguished candle gives us a hint of the ash that will mark the start of Lent in a few weeks’ time.
The font at Croydon Minster with
crucifix in the background
(made by Trinity School for a production
of Murder in the Cathedral)

There’s a deliberate echo here of baptism. When Matthew and Joseph were baptised last week they were marked with the sign of the cross and we presented them with a candle and said, ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.’

The light of Christ is a light that all who bear the name Christian are called to shine out, not just in the comfort of a Sunday morning but every day in the shadows of a broken world and human lives. We endeavour to shine out at work, at school in the places where we encounter other people and seek out God.

At the end of every Eucharist we are sent out to love and serve the Lord, and we say that we will in the name of Christ. Working out what that means is a task for each of us wherever we spend our lives and time.

Perhaps the key is in those words of baptismal commission: ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father’.

Shining out with that light is about living lives modelled on Christ our Light: being people who are Christ to others, and see Christ in others; loving, compassionate, healing, a source of blessing, trusting in God in all that we think and speak and do.

May Christ the Light of the World, in the power of the Holy Spirit, bring us the refreshment of his life. Amen.

© Andrew Bishop, 2019

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