Father Santosh Madanu: The Blessing of Candles

Sermon delivered on Candlemas, Sunday, February 2, 2020 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.

Lectionary texts: Malachi 3.1-5; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2.14-18; Luke 2.22-40.

This week we celebrate the feast of the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. In ancient Israel the Temple was the most important place in the world. It was the dwelling place of the Lord; it was where divinity and humanity embraced. But the nation of Israel had gone away from right worship of God. The Christ child is the divine and human in one and thus brings humanity back on line with God.

The words of the prophet Malachi are fulfilled in the poor parents presenting their firstborn son along with their humble sacrifice of two turtledoves. (Now I am sending my messenger— he will prepare the way before me; and the lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple; The messenger of the covenant whom you desire—see, he is coming! says the LORD of hosts. Malachi 3:1) The mother of God – the Theotokos, in no need of ritual purification – and her husband did not set themselves above the Law.

Simeon identifies the child as the awaited messiah, a light for revelation, the glory of Israel 

The devotion to the presentation of the Lord in the Temple or the blessing of Candles, Candle light procession practiced during Constantinople in the sixth Century.  This feast invites us to recognize Jesus as the light that has come into the darkness to destroy sin and death.

 In the New Testament, the festive celebration of the presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, as described by the evangelist Luke, had it’s beginning in Jerusalem in the 4th Century. The Christians followed the same prescription as attested to by St. Epiphanius in his letter to the monk John of Jerusalem in the 4the Ce. In the beginning the feast did not have specific name,  it was called the 40th day after the Nativity, later it was called the encounter of Our Lord, which refer to the encounter of St. Simeon with Jesus in the Temple.  In the west, the feast is called The Purification, which prescribed by the Law (Luke2:12).  Later it was called Presentation of the Lord in the Temple. Now it is called The Candlemas, or Blessing of the Candles.

When Simeon took the child Jesus into his arms, he was inspired by the Holy Spirit and chanted the hymn, “Now you can let your servant go in peace, O Master… (Luke 2, 29-32).  St. Simeon referred Jesus as the “Light to the Gentiles,” it prompted the first Christians to carry a lighted candle or lamp in the procession that day, symbolizing the mystical presence of the “True Light”.  The solemn procession itself symbolizes the journey of Joseph and Mary to Jerusalem in fulfilment of the Law.

The blessing of candles and procession is of great importance.  Because of the words of Simeon and the testimony of Anna the prophetess. This is a kind of epiphany celebration. We gladly participate in the procession commemorating the Lord’s entry into the temple in Jerusalem and His encounter with God, whose house He had come to for the first time, and then with Simeon and Anna.  Jesus Christ is the light to enlighten the Gentiles.  Who are the Gentiles?  We are all the Gentiles.  We came to know Jesus the Light of the world through Him.  This is the humble service Blessed Mother Mary did to honor God in obedience to the Law.

It is good to know the custom of blessing candles on the Feast of the Presentation was introduced to fulfill the needs of the people.  During the 5th Ce as recorded in the Chronicles of St. Theophanes, Emperor Justinian I, issued the order that on the feast of the presentation, a Candle – light procession be held throughout the city to implore Divine Protection against the pestilence and numerous earthquakes that plagued the city. And in answer to this holy gesture, God caused the pestilence and earthquakes to subside.  This gave rise to having processions on other occasions when the common welfare of the people was in danger.  In homes, the blessed candles are lighted in time of serious sickness or the threat of a storm to implore Divine Protection, as the family gathered in prayer.

St. John Chrysostom says the candle blessed on the feast of the presentation is also used when the Last Rite of the Church are administered to a member of the family.  It should also be placed into the hand of the dying as the priest recites the prayer for the Departure of the Soul, sending him to God as “the Champion of Faith”.

The liturgy provides for the blessing of women both before and after birth.

It is a highly desirable thing for mothers and married couples to ask for these blessings so that pregnancy can be brought to term without difficulty (blessing before birth), and to give thanks to God for the gift of a child (blessing after birth).

In the Old Testament Lev 24:14, God Himself ordered the Israelites to burn lamps as a sign of His presence among the People.

The psalmist speaks: your word, O Lord, is a lamp to my feet and light to my path

St. John the evangelist presents Our Lord Jesus Christ to us in his Gospel as the “The Light of Life”. (John 8:12) a life of grace.

St. Mathew refers to Light as a symbol of Christ Teaching:  “the people that lived in darkness (of ignorance) have seen a great light.  Mathew 4:16

John 8:12 Our Lord Himself says “I am the Light of the World”

The teachings of Jesus Christ should enlighten us and guide us on our way to Salvation.

Dear friends this light of Christ can help us to walk through the darkness to the unknown world- Heaven.

Gospel tell us the story of Simeon and Anna went to the Temple every day, because both of them believed that one day, they would see the Messiah there.   So this is something that they have done for long time. And of course, as we just heard, they are both rewarded for their Faith and their perseverance. By the fact they get to see Jesus on the day that he was presented to God in the Temple, because they had been waiting for Messiah in prayer and fasting day and night.  God fulfills His promises to Simeon and Anna.

How can we know our salvation?

How can we know the promises of God being fulfilled?

How does God reward His faithful?

The Lord may bless us like Simeon and Anna to see the salvation, when we consecrate our life to His Sacred Heart.   We need to acknowledge God in everything we do and live. This is why we have to find some time for God every day in our lives.  If Simeon and Anna decided not to go to the Temple that day, they would have missed out!

Are we missing Jesus and His Light? Are we missing out the joy, peace and spiritual life?  Because we miss church, we miss prayer life and fellowship. Let God fulfill His promises to us every day!

Dear brothers and sisters forty days have passed since we celebrated the joyful feast of the Nativity of the Lord. 

God in His Boundless love and Infinite mercy wanted to abide with us always.  That is why he created in His own image and likeness.  And He spent His presence with Adam and Eve every day.  

Though they disobeyed His Commandment and lost His presence.  Once again God in Jesus Christ came to walk, talk and have His abiding presence.  That is what todays feast presentation of the Lord in the Temple. God in Jesus Christ come to meet His children.

Jesus is coming to meet His believing people through His word and through the Holy Mass.  We need to be prepared to meet Him and have an encounter with Christ. Surely we shall find Him and ask His blessings like St. Simeon. 

Prayer: Lord Jesus, you have established the church, made all of us your members, bless us that we may never ceases to proclaim the mystery that God has become man.  And God who created all things has emptied himself to become like one of a his creatures to be Light to Nations. IN Jesus Name we pray. Amen.