February 2, 2021 | Judith Sutera, OSB
The Feast of the Presentation, known historically as Candlemas Day, the celebration of light . . .
Light: the first gift of God, the sign of God’s presence.
In the Bible, God’s first words and act are “Let there be light.” But whether you believe in the literal 7 days of creation or the Big Bang theory, or something in between, all roads lead back to a great explosion of energy that formed something out of chaos. I found the best creation narrative while reading to my godson from the Zondervan Children’s Bible Storybook: “In the beginning everything was dark. There was no world at all, only emptiness. But God was there and God was not dark or empty. God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was, so life could begin.”
God was not satisfied to just send light in a general form from somewhere afar and let life continue on its own. We are told, “The Light came into the world.” At the presentation, Simeon saw the Light. He already had a great light within him, the light of hope, and he spent his life straining to see the light at the end of the dark tunnel. Now, having reached out and embraced the Light, he could go into eternal light, knowing that the light would begin to spread, a light for Gentile and Jew alike. A flame would consume the sacrifice brought that day, as a different kind of sacred flame would consume their son’s life sacrifice.
The light went out briefly in the darkness of a tomb but came back like the first big bang. Some who have researched the Shroud of Turin with modern scientific instruments claim that the image appears to have come from a burst of radiant energy that originated from the inside, imprinting the image like an x-ray.
We celebrate Christmas in the darkest time of the year, just as the earth begins to tilt towards the light. Today’s feast comes as we begin to notice the gradual lengthening of the day. We are on our way once again out of the darkness. We will use the candles blessed today to light all of our feasts, our funerals, our ordinary time. At the Easter vigil we will act out the words proclaimed in the Exsultet about how a flame, though undiminished, can spread from one person to another until light fills every dark corner.
There will be days in this new year that will be dark with tragedy, strife, pain and death. There will be days that feel empty from loneliness, helplessness, doubt and disappointment.
But God is there and God is not dark or empty. Let there be light.