Last Sunday, we celebrated the Feast of Candlemas. The church recalled the occasion on which Jesus, like all first-born male children, was presented to God in the Temple in Jerusalem. In the same ceremony, his mother underwent the ritual purification that was required after child-birth. Luke tells us in his account of the event, that Mary and Joseph did everything that the Jewish law required of all parents.
However, what made the situation unique was the presence of two deeply holy people – Anna and Simeon. Anna realized that the child was going to be deeply connected with the redemption of Jerusalem. Simeon goes further. With the child in his arms, he sings a beautiful hymn of praise –
“Lord, now lettest thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”
This hymn has become part of the choral tradition of the Christian community. It is included in the Anglican office of Evensong and the monastic observation of Compline. The words are so familiar that sometimes the rather shocking nature of the message is overlooked. Priority is given to offering spiritual enlightenment to the Gentiles – illumination and insight being available to the nations not part of God’s original covenant. The blessing that will come to Israel takes second place to this.
I like to think of this passage encouraging us to constant and intentional outreach. What gives the greatest glory to those of us inside is bringing goodness, joy and comfort to those outside. It reminds that God’s salvation is prepared for all people, without exception.
Fr. Neil Gray