Thursday, February 2, 2012

Cross-post, also at Gottesblog, of a transcript of the sermon preached for Candlemas 2012, at St. Paul's in Kewanee, Illinois (for the audio, click here):

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.

Dearly beloved in the Lord, the birth of Jesus Christ our Lord, his manifestation in the flesh is a fulfillment of the word that was written by Moses: Let there be light and there was light.

From the very beginning, this was to be so: that while darkness shrouded the earth, nevertheless the Spirit hovered over the face of the deep. And the Spirit gave way to the word which proceeded and came out from the mouth of God: let there be light.  And the world shrouded in darkness was enlightened.

This is the way of God.  This is the way also, therefore, of the Gospel.  This is how it works.  The light shines in dark places and enlightens them all by itself.

This is what caused Simeon to exult and rejoice when the Child Jesus was brought into the temple on that great day, the day we commemorate this day, the fortieth day from his birth, the day he was presented in the temple.  And with the song of the angels still resounding in their ears, Mary and Joseph now here Simeon’s exultation and exaltation of Christ, the One come as a light: a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of God’s people Israel

This is what it means that the world was shrouded in darkness and then was enlightened by the word of God.  This is what it means: that without him we are lost.  Our hearts, that is, are the places where the true and deepest darkness may be found.  The heart of man, the darkened heart of man gropes after but can come nowhere near finding its Creator.  We grope in the dark.  We are lost, we are helpless, we are hopeless.  We are sinful masses who have failed our Creator.  The darkness is we ourselves: our hearts are darkened.  Their foolish hearts were darkened, says the Apostle St. Paul, and he was not only referring to those who happen to be on the outside, but to all of us.  Our hearts are by nature completely shrouded in darkness. 

But thanks be to God that the Spirit of God hovered there, as the word was spoken over them, and the waters over which the Spirit hovered in the beginning, have become for us the waters of the blessed laver and font of Holy Baptism; and we have been brought into the light of Christ by the grace of his speaking: Let there be light.  In him and only in him is light.  And without him, and without his word, there is only darkness.  We are lost, condemned, dead, enemies of God in ourselves.  But Christ has come, as it were out of nowhere, and the light has enlightened the darkness, as it is written by the prophet Isaiah, the prophet perhaps that Simeon had in mind when he said his words.  The prophet said, The people that sat in darkness have seen a great light.  We sat in darkness; we have seen a great light. 

But who gets credit for the seeing? You? Your eyes?  They are useless without light.  It is the light that enlightens the room, that gives sight to your eyes; and so also it is the Gospel and story of Jesus that gives light and salvation to our darkened hearts.  So we find on Candlemas, the day on which we celebrate the light of Christ, we find that we have been enlightened entirely by the magnificent, unspeakable grace of almighty God. 

This is the light of Christ toward which we also tend, toward which we are headed.  I love the words of the Introit for a Requiem: Eternal rest grant unto them o Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them.  The idea that the dead in Christ are in perpetual light is very biblical, because God is light; and light emanates forth from him.  The light of the Transfiguration emanated forth from him.  The light of the glory that shown around the Bethlehem shepherds emanated forth from him.  The light that first enlightened the darkened seas emanated forth from him.  The light that brings us to him emanates forth from him to us poor lost, condemned, otherwise mortal creatures. And the more we tend toward our mortality and weakness and the grave, the more clearly we can see that we are lost in ourselves, and dependent utterly upon him who so freely lavishes the light of his mercy and forgiveness on our darkened hearts; forgiveness wrought by the very incarnate one, the Incarnate One, whom Simeon held in his arms.

The elderly Simeon was now unafraid to face death itself: Now let your servant depart in peace, he cries, unafraid; because he holds the source of light and life and salvation.  So now we receive him here in this holy place, and it is therefore perfectly appropriate and right that we should sing the same words, that  they should be echoed on our lips:

Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace—let come what may—because according to thy word mine eyes have seen thy salvation which Thou has prepared before the face of all people. A light, a blessed light, a holy light, an enlightening light, a dispersing of the darkness light.  And the glory, the only glory, of God’s people Israel.  

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.

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