Have you tried praying the daily examen that Katie recommended in last week’s letter? I’ve been trying to practice this prayer before going to sleep at night, and I have found it such a helpful way to review the day with God. As I’ve done so, I’ve noticed the theme of hope cropping up a lot lately; sometimes because I have hope, but more often because I need hope. There is so much that I am hoping for this year—for myself, for our church, for South Arlington, for our nation, for the world. The daily examen has given me a place to notice those hopes that I haven’t even dared to say out loud because I am afraid of being disappointed, and to entrust them to the God who holds all things together.
I wonder, what are you hoping for?
Hope is the context of Candlemas, which we will celebrate together this Sunday (it technically falls on Feb 2, 40 days after Christmas—so you can celebrate again on Tuesday!). Candlemas is another name for The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, when we remember the remarkable story told in Luke 2:22-38. When Jesus’ parents brought him to the temple as a baby, somehow Simeon and Anna recognized in him the light of the world, the redemption of all people, and the fulfillment of a lifetime of hoping.
Simeon and Anna were both quite old—old enough to have known disappointment and deep grief (Anna was widowed at an early age), old enough to have spent decades hoping for God’s promises that never seemed to come. And yet somehow the Holy Spirit sustained them in their hope. They never stopped praying, fasting, worshiping, and hoping for the light of the world to come.
But when that light finally came to the temple that day, it wasn’t brilliant and dazzling. It was small, weak, and vulnerable. The light of the world appeared in the form of a newborn baby from a poor family. Somehow the Holy Spirit enabled Simeon and Anna to see in this fragile packaging the hope of the world. It is a story that demonstrates well the spiritual wisdom of 1 Corinthians 2:9-12 that our small groups studied last week:
"But, as it is written,
'What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him'—
these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. . . . Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God."
I don’t know about you, but I want this Spirit! I want to understand “the gifts bestowed on us by God,” to more fully grasp the good things “God has prepared for those who love him”—especially in these days when hope often feels fragile. Simeon and Anna show us what this spiritual wisdom looks like (remember: it looks like foolishness!). They show us how to rejoice in hope even when it feels small and vulnerable.
And so this Sunday, we will join them in rejoicing! Candlemas is typically the time that we bless the church’s candles, which will remind us of the light of Christ throughout the coming year. You may remember our children processing in all the candles last year for Liz to bless; such a sweet moment together!
This year, we may not know what candles we will use in worship or when we might worship in person again. But we can still give thanks for the light of the world together. We will pray a special collect, sing the words of Simeon, hear a special gospel presentation from our Atrium, and light our own candles from home as a way of holding onto hope together. Please bring a candle to worship!
Are you struggling to hold onto hope? Does the light of Christ feel as though it’s flickering? Please reach out to me, to Katie, to your small group leaders, to one another so that we can help one another keep our candles lit. (Psst: you can still join a small group, or invite a friend to join!)
Finally, I want to share this collect recently written by David Taylor, an Anglican priest, professor, and theologian whose work I always appreciate. Perhaps it will help shine light on your day-to-day hopes and frustrations, as it did mine. I have tucked it inside my BCP.
O Lord, you who bring order out of chaos, please take all the things that are going wrong with this day. Speak your word of peace to my anxious heart and your word of order to my confused mind, so that I might assuredly know that your right hand upholds me even as I cling to you for dear life. In your name I pray. Amen.