Lord, now let your servant depart in peace
according to your word,
for my eyes have seen your salvation
which you have prepared before the face of all people
to be a light to lighten the Gentiles
and to be the glory of your people, Israel
BCP- Compline (adapted)
Most years, I'm caught a little by surprise when Candlemas (aka The Presentation of the Lord) comes around. By late January/February, the excitement of the Christmas season has worn off and the slog through the mid-winter usually means a slog through marking and report cards. So, today, while I knew it was Candlemas because I was called in to wave smoke about in the service, I was focusing on making sure that I knew where I was going in the dance which is an Anglo-Catholic service. So, when the Gospel came around and I got to heard these familiar words from Symeon as he encountered the baby Jesus on the occasion of his presentation, I smiled. I smiled because this passage has meant so much to me that, when, over the course of years, I cobbled together a mostly memorized evening prayer, I made sure I memorized this bit from the BCP Compline service because I just feel better about life, remembering this salvation which has brought light into my life and the lives of so many others. This prayer is a familiar friend and an image that I return to nightly because it reminds me that, no matter how the day has gone or what failings I might have demonstrated that day, that the coming of Jesus meant that whatever was wrong in me or the world would, eventually, come out right.
Yet, this promise isn't all sweetness and light. As our preacher pointed out today, the Nunc Dimittis isn't the end of Symeon's prophetic statements. After Symeon blessed them, he continued by saying "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel and be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.". Wow, thanks, Symeon. First, you promise that somehow this little infant would be a sign of hope and the coming of God's kingdom, then you promise strife and pain as a result. Really? Talk about mixed messages!
Again, as our preacher pointed out, this juxtaposition isn't as jarring as it looks. When it has been dark for a long time, the appearance of a light is truly something to rejoice over, but, after that first rush of gratitude, sometimes, one looks around and realizes just how grotty our surroundings actually are. And that realization may not be an easy one to make because the light may reveal something that we'd prefer not to or which we have persistently denied as part of our lives. We need the light to see how to move forward, but, sometimes, the moving forward means cleaning up a mess we'd sooner not have to clean up. In a situation like that, we could try to ignore the mess, but that is hard when everything is illuminated. Or we could claim the light is distorting the true picture. Or we could just move away from the light, back to the familiar darkness. Or we could just use the light to clean up the mess and move on. What we do, I suspect, will also dictate our attitude to what the light represents and how we'll react to it.
I know that I need the hopefulness of Symeon's blessing of Jesus, but I, also, know that that hopefulness doesn't come easily. For Symeon, that hope only emerged after a lifetime of waiting and longing and it is all the more poignant because we know (as he himself knew) that Symeon would never see the fulfillment of that hope in Jesus' life, death and resurrection. Yet, I wonder if it is the fact that this hope is hard-won is what I find is compelling. I can see well enough around me to know that I'm in the need of saving- not in the sense of being teleported to a different reality, but in order that my life is transformed to something useful both to those around me and to God. I need that light to lighten me, so I can see the gloriousness around me, even amid the mundane, workaday world I live in. I may not always like what that light reveals, but I know it is better to see and fix, than to stumbled around aimlessly.
So, I'll pray the Nunc Dimittis again tonight as I usually do, perhaps with a bit more awareness of the edginess of this prayer. I pray for the serenity to look into those places where the light shines in where I don't necessarily want and the courage to do something about it.