Every now and then the lights go out.
The power cut, the storm, or something different, like a birthday party when the lights go out so that the candle laden cake can be brought in, and the darkness reveals the smaller, but radiant light.
Lucy and I have often had holidays in France. Tucked away in old hillside villages, places off the beaten track, there are small old churches. Almost always are they open and often you are alone. Thick walled, and with benches. Dim and dusky. And my eyes are always drawn by the one small candle held up by a chain, suspended above the altar, to let you know that here, the Host, the Body of Christ in bread, is being honoured.
Seeing that light, it somehow orients you to the church, it stills you into the quiet, the silence which is more than the absence of noise. You stop and sit, and in that dark everything falls away that is not God’s presence.
That one tiny light, not in bleak darkness, but in the dusk of a church, is so important.
Mary and Joseph made their way into the temple in Jerusalem. The light of the sun around the Mediterranean is dazzling. It hurts to look. Clothing is long and covering to protect your skin, and hoods or veils act as sunglasses.
They climb the hill and mount the steps into the Temple. Blinking they pause as they enter the dusk of vast space. A couple, carrying a baby. Small people. No fanfare. The temple is huge and strange and holy. They hesitate, not least to let both eyes and minds adjust to being in... a place of holiness.
The temple is not empty, but quite noisy, with people coming and going, or standing in awe of the building, or directing visitors to where the stalls will sell them the sacrificial animals they need, or to where a nursing mother can sit, in a little privacy, with her baby.
I imagine they went towards the light. Perhaps a high window or a flickering candle.
Yes, the candle; light, but with privacy too.
And then old Simeon turning from his path, pauses, like a dog sniffing the wind, turns not knowing why and follows some beckoning, like a sense of dawn about to show, but not quite yet.
And there is this little family, not looking for attention, and a nursing baby..
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.” An invisible weight falls visibly from his shoulders.
“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”
It is the great realization that he can relax, let go, hand something over which he has carried in his heart all these years. He can pass this on to the baby, in safe hands... But, and as an honest man trying to carry God’s truth he must also say, "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”, turning to the mother’s eyes he says, “a sword will pierce your own soul too."
What was it about this couple and the child that drew old Anna? A woman living not quite in this world, this strange old lady who knew every nook and cranny of the place. Her inner eye was drawn by intuition, by imagination, by the Spirit, by the light of the baby. And she too sees more than meets the eye alone; a light within the soul of this child. What she said was between her and Mary.
Faith is not measured by how many unbelievable things you can believe before breakfast.
Faith is not about giving up common sense, or denying the empirical truths of science.
Faith is not about soft-headedness or simple minded foolishness
Faith is about noticing the candle’s flame....
Looking deeply with the heart to see beauty, fragility and the risk of catching fire.
It is choosing to see light without cursing the darkness
It is to be consciously alive in the midst of so much that tells you it’s too hard.
It is to see a tired mother, slumped in a bus seat, with a tired and somewhat overwhelmed man beside her, and a baby that doesn’t yet know the world,
It is faith that opens your heart to love that trio, even if you never say a word.
Faith is just a small thing
It is the commitment to carry a candle in your heart.
And though the night is so long and so dark, and the dawn of light and hope is stifled by politicians and men of war and the endless wanting of glory
You will carry that light and rekindle the flame when it has been overwhelmed.
It is to believe that Goodness and Truth will never crumble.
It is to believe that love, so small and so easily destroyed, will, in the end be the only thing that matters to you.
Faith held is the memory of the flame in the dark, which if you sit long enough with, you will gradually begin to see the arches of the old church roof the French masons crafted, who, there, hid their trade signs and their hopes and the love of God that it all stood for.
You will discern, even dimly, the value and the purpose of your life and that you are not finished yet.
And though you may want to turn away to the blistering light of the marketplace, or to the familiar dark of your familiar fears, on Candlemass when one small baby lit an ancient and ailing faith, it is worth remembering that to light a candle is to bring a blessing to the dark. A blessing, even to the dark.