A Light to Lighten…, Candlemas – 1997
February 01, 1997
“A light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.” Luke 2: 32
These are familiar words known to many of us because they are part of the Nunc dimittis in Evening Prayer. They are found in the Lucan account of Christ’s presentation in the Temple in Jerusalem when Jesus was taken by his mother and Joseph to the Holy city so that his mother might be purified according to the law of Moses and her first-born son presented to the Lord in the Temple. During that visit a just and devout man called Simeon to whom the Holy Spirit had revealed that he would not die until he saw the Lord’s Messiah, took the child in his arms blessed him and said, “Lord now permit your servant to depart in peace, since my eyes have seen your act in salvation, a salvation prepared before the face of all people and one that shall be both the glory of your people Israel and a light to give light to the Gentiles.”
These words suggest to us three things to which we should pay attention. Because whatever we may like to think about this event historically as it is reported by St. Luke, three things stand out clearly. First, God’s act of salvation, second, that act as Israel’s glory and third that act as a light for all who are not Israelites – for the Gentiles whoever and wherever they may be.
Many Christians think that to be able to give a true interpretation depends upon speculation about the nature of things or on great ethical teaching or still on noble ideals. They value Christianity because it is thought to have those principles or ideals. But the center of the New Testament is a historical event, an event which took place in a particular location and can be given a date. Christianity is based on a particular man, in a particular place and at a particular time. That man in that particular place at that particular time was Jesus of Nazareth who as an infant, Luke tells us, was presented to the Lord in the temple. Everything that the church does whether its theological reflection or worship or ethical teaching, must be based on this specific event. It is because in a definite time in history, God “visited and redeemed his people” and God is the Lord of history who works providentially in all events and among all people. The center of all Christianity is a baby born, a life lived, a death died, a renewed presence and a power known. Christianity is not based on a philosophical idealogy, ethical teaching or a mere speculation but on the great Christ event.
Secondly, the glory of Israel. God had revealed himself to the Jews as a God who works in history. God’s dealings with Israel demonstrated to the Jews that he was their God although it was also recognized that God was also the God of all the earth. But Israel was sure that God’s presence had been with the nation from the time of Abraham until the time in which they were now living and they were sure that God could act again to reveal his power and saving purpose. So Simeon could say that this child Jesus was “the glory of God’s people Israel” bringing to perfection and fulfilling what God had done in the past. God’s salvation was now here. The God who had always been showing his presence to Israel has come in Jesus.
Thirdly, he who was the glory of Israel was to be a light to lighten the Gentiles. What God had done in revelation to Israel, God had also done for the whole world, for everybody everywhere who would hear the preaching of God’s saving act and responds to it in faith. The good news of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ was for all people. Thus Jesus charged his disciples and still charges us who are his disciples today to “go and make disciples of all nations.”
Therefore Christians must focus on the saving act of God in Jesus Christ. In Jesus, God’s truth was revealed and grace was given. But God’s revelation in Jesus is for all God’s children everywhere whether white or black, rich or poor, tall or short, male and female.
The challenges, questions, confusions and uncertainties of human existence often seem unsurmountable. All these issues of human existence need answers and the great story of God in the salvation of the world through Jesus Christ gives an assurance of new ways of living. The great story of God in the salvation of the world through Jesus Christ gives an understanding that brings out the possibilities of life, the wonder of things made new and an abounding hope. This assurance of God’s presence will help us to reflect on what is actually happening in our lives, our relationships, the world around us and the whole world. We will ask questions, but, then we can attempt answers because God has revealed his glory to us in Jesus Christ. And what we can do and ought to do now is to commit to this faith, hold on to this faith, live this faith, and preach this faith. Amen.
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