According to Navy legend, once upon a time, in the early days of naval radar, a United States aircraft carrier called the USS Constitution was making its way into British waters. The Radar operator spotted a blip on his screen, directly in the path of the mighty carrier. So the Captain radioed ahead and said "Unknown Vessel, please change your course by 20 degrees to avoid a collision".
The radio crackled, and a reply came back. "Unable to comply. You change your course." The captain picked up the radio again. "Listen, this is a naval vessel - heading straight for your co-ordinates. Now change your course, or risk being sent to the bottom of the ocean".
The radio crackled again, and the reply came back, "We were here first. You change your course!" By now, the captain of the mighty war machine was incandescent with rage. "Listen, you little British pip-squeek. This is the USS Constitution - the largest air-craft carrier in the world. We won't even feel you when we run over you. Now move!"
The radio crackled for a third time. "This is the Eddystone Lighthouse. Your move."
There's something really special about lighthouses, isn't there? As a boy, I used to spend holidays in the fishing town of Brixham, down in deepest Devon. I loved watching the Berry-head lighthouse, streaming its beam out over the waters. There's something deeply comforting about the regular, pulsating light...the swoop of the beam...the knowledge that this light is making this bit of coastline safe.
Today we are celebrating the feast of Candlemass - the time when members of the Orthodox church bring beeswax candles to church to have them blessed by the priest - candles that will be used throughout the year. The blessing takes place, in some places, after an all-night vigil. So, if we were really to be 'doing' Candlemass properly, we should have been here in church all night...and you should have all brought candles to be blessed at the Eucharist. Next year perhaps?!
In some churches, today, there will be processions around the church, or around the town, with each member holding a candle. We're going to do something a little different - using candles as a focus for our prayers of intercession in a short while. Ultimately, of course, however it is celebrated, the symbolism of Candlemass is all about light. It stems from the reading for the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple - the gospel we heard just now. As you know, when Christ had been presented, Simeon the Righteous declared that he had seen the promised Messiah - and that he was now content to die. Crucially, he described Jesus as 'a light'...a light to the non-Jewish world, as well as glory (which is another light-related metaphor)...glory for the people of Israel.
Light is a theme which permeates the whole bible - just like the search-beam of a lighthouse. God's first command, according the Great Legend of Genesis was 'Let there be light'. God led the Israelites through the Sinai Desert by a pillar of fire...a great light. Jesus is described as the light of men, and the light of the world. Saul was struck by a light on the road to Damascus. And on the nearly the last page of the Bible, in chapter 21 of the book of Revelation, the New Jerusalem is lit not by the sun or the moon, but by the glory of God, and the Lamb, who is described as the light.
Of course, these are all metaphors - metaphors which make us wonder what life might be like if it was lived in God's way...if life could be lived fully 'in the light' of the teachings of God.
Now, this is the point in many sermons on light when the preacher will give you a list of things you can do to be someone who lives in the light of God. But you don't need me to do that. You know what the difference is between a life that embraces the light and a life that embraces the dark. You know it instinctively...because God's light is in you. You know the difference between getting or giving, between hating and loving. You simply need to decide which way you want to live.
Last year, as I’m sure you remember, we celebrated the 350th Anniversary of the Book of Common Prayer. At the offertory, in the old Communion service, we used to use a phrase of Jesus, from Matthew’s Gospel: “Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven”. (Mat5:16) The older folks among us will remember that phrase, I’m sure. It was, and through Matthew’s Gospel it remains, an encouragement to all of us to live lives that are filled with God’s light…light that overflows to our families, our community, our friends.
Jesus came to be a light to world. And we are now the bearers of his light, filled with his Spirit, and tasked with bringing his light into all the dark corners of the world that we encounter. The dark corners of violence, poverty, depression, prejudice, greed and unbelief - to name just a few. That is our sacred charge, and our sacred duty.
So, may you re-discover, daily, what it means to live as a Child of the Light. May the light of Christ so fill your heart and your life that it flows out in healing waves to all whom you encounter. And may your light so shine before all people, that they may see your good works, and give glory to your Heavenly Father.
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