Luke 2.22 – 32
Today, Candlemas marks the end of the Christmas season, and is a transitional point before we move into the season of Lent. We tend to think that only Christmas is the season of light when we light up our homes and our streets with festive lights, reminding us that the joy of Christ’s birth is the gift we have been given, and will continue to receive throughout our lives.
And it’s not just the light we see in our lives, and feel its warmth on our bodies, that blesses us. We are also blessed with another form of God’s light. As we say in our liturgy “Your word is a lantern to my feet and a light upon my path.” This is the light that finds a way to our hearts. And there is the mystical light that St John of the Cross calls “luminous darkness” when our spiritual eyes have to adjust, as we walk along the path of faith towards God, who is hidden in the darkness beyond light, in a mystical silence.
The Candlemas story is a story of the Holy Spirit bringing Simeon to the Temple to meet Jesus, his mother Mary and Joseph, just at the right moment. Simeon is inspired to declare that, “my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” [Luke 2.30 – 32] This statement is one of the reasons why we are enjoying a feast of candles in our church this evening. The warm candlelight is meant to be a tangible reminder of that greater light which, for all time, radiates from the figure of Jesus.
Luke also reminds us of the lowly status of Jesus’s family. The two turtledoves Jesus’ family presents are the sacrifices designated for the poor, according to the Levitical code (Leviticus 5:7, 12:8, 14:22). Jesus came from a poor family. The gospels, written in Greek, describe Joseph as a “tekton”; traditionally this word has been taken to mean “carpenter”, but actually it describes someone who works with wood and with iron or stone. Perhaps our modern equivalent would be a jobbing builder. Whatever Joseph’s occupation, it is likely to have been at a subsistence level because both Bethlehem and Nazareth were poor agricultural villages.
So it is unsurprising, given this upbringing, that Jesus was attentive to the needs of the poor. In John’s Gospel Jesus says, “You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.” In saying this, Jesus is not diminishing the seriousness of poverty and the importance of charity. Perhaps he had in mind something from the Book of Deuteronomy “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour in your land.’[15.11]
At the end of last year the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reported that over the past four years, 700,000 more young people and pensioners in Britain have been “plunged into poverty”. The Institute for Fiscal Studies predicts an increase of more than a million in the number of children living in poverty, more than reversing all the progress made over the past 20 years.
Our church of All Saints has tried to focus on this problem by supporting local and international charities that are engaged in relieving poverty and oppression. Last year we supported the Aberdeen Foodbank and this year we decided at our AGM to support an international charity called Solar-Aid. I’ve put up some posters in the meeting room and the liturgy sheet has some pictures I downloaded from their website solar-aid.org.
Since then I have received a letter from Solar-Aid, explaining that the lights you see in the pictures, which they sold to 1.9 million people, were too expensive for some. So they redesigned the light with the aim of producing a robust, quality light that would dramatically reduce the cost. These now sell for a few dollars and save families $70 a year they would otherwise have to spend on kerosene and candles to light their homes.
Solar-aid provides access to solar lights in Uganda, Malawi and Zambia. Their aim is to provide solar markets that will eradicate the kerosene lamps which are a human health hazard as well as adding tonnes of CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, the human activity that is contributing to global warming. The solar lamps provide hours of light so that families can develop a little business at home to earn some money; that enable their children to do their schoolwork; and generally provide a clean and safe environment.
The work of Solar Aid is just a step in the right direction. It will help the very poorest to begin to develop and prosper now, rather than have to wait until their country’s infrastructure can provide the electricity that we take for granted.
The charity has created a social enterprise, SunnyMoney, who sell lights via school networks and local enterprises. They re-invest the proceeds back into their work, so encouraging job creation and keeping money in the local economy. What they do is an expensive and time consuming business, which is why private companies are reluctant to engage in this enterprise. Their teams travel thousands of miles to remote rural communities – spending days with local community members – sometimes only selling a handful of lights.
They help instil trust and create demand in a new and unfamiliar technology – which helps build the foundations for a sustainable solar market and a lasting energy legacy. For every £1 we donate 92p will go on charitable work.
Candlemas comes 40 days after Christmas and remains a day of hope and light. It is the time before we begin to reflect on our own lives during Lent, when there will be opportunities for abstinence, repentance and prayer. It is a time to honour our Lord as the Light of the World, but also to remind us that we have the light of Jesus within us and we need to put our faith into action. We need to be prepared to burn brightly in the midst of this dark world. Jesus is not just a light to lighten the gentiles, we as followers of Jesus are called out to be a light for all nations, and all races and cultures. Amen.