‘When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.’
In our warm and cosy living room two electric lights keep the darkness at bay – the standard lamp in the corner that Sebastian loves to shake so much, and the flowery glass globe from Ikea on the cupboard. When we turn them on we expect the power to surge through the wires giving us light on demand, and, with very rare exception, it does. Here in Britain it’s quite easy to take light for granted. We don’t even have proper darkness with which to compare our light – the orange glow of the light-polluted skies over London is not much of a backdrop.
When I lived in Africa over ten years ago we had electric lights in our house…in theory. The power cuts were so regular and so long that we may as well have not had electricity at all. That near to the equator the sun sets almost on the dot of 6pm and rises again at 6am – twelve hours of darkness. Standing outside our house at night the darkness felt almost total with only the stars and moon and occasional firefly to break the blackness. On the frequent powerless evenings would come the ritual lighting of our candles and smelly paraffin lamps as the sun was setting. Cooking, eating, socialising, reading, living in the half light of oil lamps, candles and torches feels very different from the total comfort of daylight.
There’s another Light and another darkness. A Light that created then joined us in our world, and that can shine out of us too if we allow it to. A darkness which threatens to engulf all we know and love. The darkness is threatening and, at times, feels all powerful and all consuming; the Light precious, rarefied, yet persistent, strangely fragile sometimes. And yet, weighed in the balance it is the Light that overcomes. The Light, however tiny it might seem in our own lives, is not defeated by all that darkness: darkness within us, and darkness from outside us. The Light had always been there and will always be there and the darkness never stood any hope; but we come slow to that realisation.
This is Good News. This is something to gladden all people, something to shout about, something to be thankful for.