Fr Thomas’s homily at Mass on the Presentation (Candlemas) (2 February)

David Dibert via“A light to lighten the Gentiles: and to be the glory of your people, Israel.”

When Christ was brought into the temple, his parents knew that they had a special child — they knew that something radical was about to happen, that God was at work among his people. But when they took him to that temple, they didn’t realise the full significance of what would unfold on that day.

They encountered that old man, Simeon, who was to bring that long line of Old Testament prophecies to its completion. And who was to point out something which was quietly present in the Old Testament prophecies, but which wasn’t widely appreciated. God had raised up the sons of Abraham, the nation of Israel, to be his people. They quite rightly had a very strong sense of that.

But it was never going to be enough for God just to have one nation. It was never good enough for God simply to have one little bit of land and the people living in it. God is the creator of the whole universe. Everything in it belongs to him, and this is something which is made so clear, so explicit, in the person of Our Lord. He was from that nation of Israel. Both St Matthew and St Luke give histories detailing his genealogy within that nation. He was the glory of God’s people Israel.

But that was not enough; that couldn’t be enough for the God who made all of the world. He is also the light to lighten the Gentiles. Every nation now has that light of Christ shining on it. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not understand it,” as St John tells us. Nations across the world were in complete darkness: they had no revealed knowledge of God. They did have various ideas reaching out towards him; they knew something must be out there but they couldn’t yet see it, because it was dark.

But now, the light shines. The light shines so they can see that truth, if they will but look for it.

It has well been said that when we say that we believe in God, it’s like saying that we believe in the sun. It’s not so much that by looking up at the sun we can see that enormous burning ball of gas in our sky: but it is by the sun that we see everything else around. The same is true of Christ, the light who lightens the nations. It’s not so much that we look to him and we see something beautiful — though of course, we do: we place the cross at the centre of our church as the place to look, to focus — but we have Christ as our light, and by looking at him, we see where we should go. We see where truth is; we see what beauty is.

As you hold in your hands these small candles, the light they give can seem to be quite small. It’s a light that needs to be cared for, to be nurtured, but it’s a light that needs to be taken out. Christ is, and has been since he met Simeon, the light to lighten the nations, but he needs us to take that light out into our nation. If we look at the world around us, can we doubt for a moment that it is still in great darkness? It is still crying out for us to carry the light of Christ outwards, to let the light of Christ shine in our lives, so that other people can see that this is the true light; so that they too can look at Christ and see what goodness, truth and beauty are; so that they too can have that light to show them how they may live their lives, how they may journey closer to God, how they may ultimately attain to heaven.

Simeon spoke those words of Christ all those centuries ago, and they echo down to us, they are repeated year after year. In fact they are repeated day after day: as we finish our day in that final office of Compline we repeat those words every day. But they are utterly worthless unless we take them seriously, unless we see Christ being the light and we realise the challenge to us that we allow him genuinely to lighten our lives and drill us to lighten those around us.

That task is to turn that phrase into not just something that we hear or we refute, it is to turn it into a prayer. Let us turn it into our pleading with Christ that his light may shine out for us and may shine out from us, so that others may see that light through us and through our lives, through our closeness to Christ, and that seeing it they too may be drawn to him.