I love Candlemass.
I love the echoes of the lost medieval church, the remembrance of past generations gathering with candles to be blessed – to light their homes and their worship through the year ahead.
I love the way this feast is a hinge point, between the crib and the cross.
As worship ends today, the light that has shone in the crib since Christmas Eve will finally be extinguished and our focus will move to the font – the place where each of us was, at baptism, marked by the cross, and commissioned to lead lives cross-shaped lives, - modelled on the pattern of Christ.
After today, we will not carry candles into our churches til the Easter Vigil, when the deacon will proclaim “The light of Christ” as the Paschal candle is brought in to transform the darkness of Holy Saturday – and we reaffirm those baptism vows once again.
Because, we are called to be people of light...
“It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness” says the proverb
Whenever we choose hope, whenever we proclaim salvation, however vague and uncertain it seems, we each of us light a candle.
We light a candle for others – quite literally, as a sign of prayers.
The Lady Chapel at St Matthew's is often bright with candle flames, each a visible reminder that someone has visited and asked God to shine his light into dark or troubling situations.
We light candles for others, too, whenever we live as children of light...opting for what is good and true...showing by the way we live that we take seriously our commission to shine as a light in the world.
When our school Eucharist ended on Friday, I gave each class a candle to take away with them. For a few moments 7 flames burned brightly, drawing the eyes of all of us...then we counted down and blew them out – and I told the children, as I so often do, that the flame goes from the candle into their hearts.
And surely that's the message of today.
Through the high celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany we have rejoiced in glimpses of God's glory...revealed to shepherds and Magi, to Simeon and Anna, to the crowds on the banks of the Jordan and the wedding guests at Cana of Galilee.
Now we have to make sure that the world knows that the light still shines.
Sometimes it may feel as if the hope of Israel – and our own hopes too – have been lost, extinguished by the harshness of the world...
but the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out.
Think again of Simeon holding that tiny child...defenceless, vulnerable...how RIDICULOUS of God, to place his rescue plan for the world in such a fragile vessel.
Remember, though it's true that a sudden draft can blow out a candle flame and leave us in darkness – all the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of even a single candle.
Each of us bears the light of Christ in our hearts and minds..Each of us can stand as a sign of hope in a world that needs hope so badly.
I wonder whether our ancestors in faith remembered, when they lit their candles at home, the blessing they had received...I wonder if for them, each candle flame was a sign of God's presence...of Emmanuel, God with us in the joy of the Birth day but with us too in the darkest hours of the cross, and the pain of the world.
I wonder more if they recognised Emmanuel in their friends and neighbours...
and above all, I wonder if OUR friends and neighbours recognise Emmanuel in us.
Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.