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Bless These Candles

5A Epiphany

5 Feb 2023

Matthew 5:13-16

Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; (Isaiah)

Light shines in the darkness for the upright; * the righteous are merciful and full of compassion. (Psalm 112)

“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5)

I stood at my living room window Friday night and sighed with pleasure; it was 6:30 pm and not completely dark. The light is returning. Even with the bitter cold, even with the snow cover, even with the animals desperate to find food, I know the light is returning and with it a glimmer of hope.

On February 2nd, just three days ago, the church celebrated the feast of Candlemas. Its other name, the Feast of the Presentation, seems to have no relationship to candles. The feast day is forty days after the birth of Jesus and celebrates Mary and Joseph’s journey to the temple in Jerusalem for the purification ritual following the birth of a son. It is blind Simeon who recognizes Jesus and sings his him, his ode, to the light that Jesus would be.

It started with the candles of Advent, led to the light of angels and the star of Epiphany, and finally to Candlemas, Jesus is proclaimed as a light to the nations.

For those who live in Europe, it also marked the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The earth was starting to wake up and prepare for the arrival of spring, the time when planting would take place and when food became more abundant. Survival was becoming more likely as food sources became more abundant. It was a time for lambing, for fertility; all marked by the lengthening of days.

People would bring candles to churches to be blessed, perhaps symbolizing new life and renewal and the coming of light itself, with the assurance that spring would soon be upon them. A procession through the town followed the blessing as people carried their blessed and lighted candles, celebrating light in all its many guises. From waiting expectantly in Advent to taking the light into the world during the Candlemas. It would have been glorious, perhaps something we should resurrect! What would it be like to have the people of this town all walk together in a great parade of light, bringing candles to those who could not come out, making sure that everyone had a candle. Perhaps it could be done symbolically, as those of us living in the upper Midwest usually find Feb. 2nd a cold and hostile day.

Candlemass may be a few days past, but the readings today make clear that the light is still with us and, perhaps, that we have become the light.

What does it mean for our light to shine? I say us, for as Christians we do not live solitary lives but live in community. With what do we equate having our light shine? Light, and the very term epiphany, can be equated with understanding, with grasping something that previously lay dark and not seen. How many of you have ever solved Rubric’s cube? Tried to understand how an electrical wiring blueprint should be read? Learned a new language? Learned a new way to cook? These are day to day epiphanies; one of mine was when I realized I had been tying my shoelaces incorrectly for the first twenty years of my life. Trivial? Of course, but the light came nonetheless. We become the light. We become the salt. Two essentials. Jesus spoke the words of today's gospel reading just after delivering the Sermon on the Mount. Salt has many uses, cleansing and seasoning and preserving. The clergy in Nzara, one of our companion dioceses, are paid in salt. It is worth more than money and far more useful. It can be used or traded. Salt is one of the essentials; life for those who heard Jesus’ words would be impossible without salt. You are the salt of the earth, providing the most essential ingredients for a Christ filled life. If you lose the ability to see and serve the basic needs of one another, and of the world around you, you have lost your saltiness and become worthless. Yet one must be careful. Salt can clean, but the saying not to rub salt in a wound is just as true. When we try to force ourselves and our own agendas upon others, we do just that. We so often twist and turn the words of scripture to suit our own agendas. Any student of history or politics, or even of art, understands this all too well. I guess Jesus would say we have lost our saltiness. Jesus asks us to walk the road with him and to carry our light. He does not ask us to recite a set of beliefs, but rather to be an example of love. Love is the light. Do what is good and right. It is up to us. In the words of Diana Butler Bass:

Yes, God created the light. Jesus is light in the darkness. And yet we — fragile and flawed human beings — are the light of the world. Jesus says, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others.”

We wake up the earth. We are birthing new life. We’ve journeyed from waiting to receiving to following to joining the great procession of love and justice in and through the world.[1]

We are the light.

I know that I have life only insofar as I have love.

I have no love except it come from Thee.

Help me please to carry this candle against the wind.

— Wendell Berry

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