Thursday, February 03, 2011

Candlemas Sermon

Okay, for Megan and Susie Sue, here is my Candlemas sermon, a day late, which explains pancakes, candles, groundhogs, everting.

So, as you may have noticed,
we began our Eucharist this morning in a different manner than usual.
What did you think of that?
This is the first time I’ve ever done that, too!
Today is the Feast of the Presentation,
also known as Candlemas.
When I noticed that Candlemas was on a Wednesday this year,
I decided to find out about this feast and to celebrate it.
I knew that it had something to do with candles, of course,
but I wasn’t sure how it all came together.
Well, it turns out that the feast is also connected to pancakes
and I’m sorry I found out about that too late for us to enjoy
a nice pancake breakfast!
Candlemas is English for the Latin festa candelarum
which means “The Festival of Candles.”
Just like our celebration of Christmas,
which was originally the Roman feast Saturnalia,
this was originally a Pagan Roman festival.
It was called Lupercales and honored the god Pan,
who was also called Faunus by the Romans.
He was the god of woodlands and pastures
and “rustic music” which I guess is Roman Típico.
He’s the god which is half-goat, half-man, and plays the pipes.
On Lupercales, rowdy revelers would run through the streets of Rome at night,
waving flaming torches.
Late in the fifth century,
the Bishop of Rome, Pope Gelasius I,
would feed weary pilgrims to Rome pancakes.
Around the year 472 he decided to Christianize Lupercales
and made it the celebration of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple.
And since old Simeon called Jesus
“A Light to enlighten the nations”
it would also be a celebration of Jesus as the Light of the World.
And just as the pagan Romans waved flaming torches on Lupercales,
now Christians would bring candles to the church to be blessed.
These candles would be lit later, during storms,
for protection from lightning,
and they would also be lit in the bedrooms of the dying
to keep away evil spirits
(many Christians of that time were very superstitious).
It is interesting that Lupercales was celebrated at the point
which was considered the middle of winter in the Northern Hemisphere;
the promise of Spring and more light and warmth;
that is the connection involving the torches.
It takes place at the midpoint between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
Now, according to St. Luke’s gospel,
the child Jesus was presented in the Temple forty days after his birth.
When it was decided to fix the date of Christmas on what we call December 25th
(Jesus was probably born in May, not December,
but they weren’t going for historical accuracy),
it just so happened that forty days after December 25th is February 2nd!
Justin Martyr claimed that all the pagan traditions
were actually holy days simply waiting for the arrival of Jesus,
and the way Christmas, New Years (Feast of the Circumcision),
and Candlemas worked out, one might think he had something there!
The candles represented the Light of the World,
and Pope Gelasius’ pancakes also became part of the celebration,
as the pancakes are round and golden-colored, like the sun.
And since this was originally a Pagan holiday,
and since it was celebrated originally in the Northern Hemisphere,
where it’s cold and nasty with snow and freezing rain,
there are also traditions involving weather forecasting
connected to the holiday.
February is the time of year when the bears awake from hibernation.
The bears would leave their lairs to check on the weather,
and if the bears returned to the lairs,
people said that meant at least forty more days of winter.
When German settlers arrived in the North American continent,
they brought that tradition with them,
but attached it to the Groundhog.
A groundhog is kind of like a Ñequi which lives in a hole in the ground.
They say that when the groundhog comes out of his hole on February 2nd
if he sees his shadow there will be six more weeks of winter.
So now we know all about candles and pancakes and groundhogs.

The earliest Christians all believed that Jesus was the Messiah,
the One God sent to free his people from the bondage of sin.
And because Jesus was promised,
hearing about signs of this promise was important to their faith.
In the gospel of Matthew, prophesies from the Jewish scriptures
are the signs of the promise of the Christ,
because the audience for that gospel was predominantly Jewish.
For the author of the gospel of Luke,
whose audience were mostly Greeks or Gentiles,
supernatural occurrences were the signs of the promise of the Christ.
In Luke’s gospel angels appear to people and talk with them,
while in Matthew’s gospel the angels appear in dreams.
And in the story of the presentation,
we have supernatural occurrences in the words and actions
of two elderly people who had been waiting for the coming Messiah.
The Holy Spirit had promised Simeon that he would not see death
before he had seen the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah.
And when he saw the baby Jesus with his parents,
who had come to the Temple to perform the proper sacrifice,
he took the baby in his arms and blessed God and said
the words we call the beautiful Canticle of Simeon.
Here is the version from The Message:
God, you can now release your servant;
release me in peace as you promised.
With my own eyes I’ve seen your salvation;
it’s now out in the open for everyone to see:
A God-revealing light to the non-Jewish nations,
and of glory for your people Israel.

Joseph and Mary were shocked to hear such words,
but Simeon wasn’t finished yet;
he had one more prediction to make in regards to the child.
He told them:
This child marks both the failure and the recovery of many in Israel,
A figure misunderstood and contradicted---
the pain of a sword-thrust through you---
But the rejection will force honesty, as God reveals who they really are.

Then, to really push things to the edge,
a woman named Anna, a prophetess,
who had been widowed for some eighty-four years,
saw the baby and broke into an anthem of praise to God
and told everyone she saw that the Messiah had come,
and that she’d seen him with her own eyes in the Temple.
And after performing the sacrifices in the proper manner,
the family returned to Nazareth, in Galilee,
until their yearly return to Jerusalem and the Temple for Peshac.
The words of Simeon and Anna
were signs to Luke’s audience of the promise of the Christ,
and proof that he was the Messiah.
The fact that there were signs so early in his life,
before he even began his ministry,
before he could even walk and talk,
assured the early Christians of the truth of Jesus.

So, now you know why we began our Eucharist in the manner in which we did!
May we all carry the love of the Light of the World
and do our part to enlighten those around us in his name.


susan s. said...

Tanks, Faddah!

Sanchez said...

I found an interesting post on Candlemas, which presents it in light of various traditions:

Mary and Megan said...

Thanks for going to all that trouble of writing about Candlemas, but could I please have the "cliff notes" version? It's too looong Padre, I feel like I'm back in sunday school class....(I was not fun to have in class as you might imagine :-)) Your the best Padre!

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