The Light of Candlemas

It was with some surprise and great thanksgiving that I received word yesterday that my novel The Magdalene Mystery received First Place in the Feathered Quill Book Awards for 2013. 

I was surprised again when I woke this morning, recalling this bit of news, and when I saw that it was raining, however lightly (our first real rain in California for months), I became deeply grateful, thinking that perhaps the drought was lessening. But later as I entered the warm sanctuary of our parish church, leaving the cold outside, and stepped up the thick red carpet of the central aisle, I sighed in wonder. 

I knew today was the Festival of Candlemas, the celebration of the presentation of the baby Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem. I knew it involved candles and I even recalled we in the pews held white tapers that would soon be lit by acolytes, and we would light our neighbor’s, fire catching fire. But I wasn’t prepared for the brilliance of the candles on the altar as I entered: two large candelabra, each bank holding seven flaming white tapers, framed by eight giant candlesticks aflame. I had entered a holy home, this bright house of God and his fiery love. I was cradled by the warmth and light of the space, as the clergy and acolytes processed in, swinging incense and holding the crucifix high before the burning torches, the celebrant gliding royally toward the high altar with his royal gold and white cope. We sang with many voices joined together as one, “As with gladness men of old/Did the guiding star behold; As with joy they hailed its light, Leading onward, beaming bright; So most gracious Lord, may we/Evermore be led to thee…” (52).

The nave and sanctuary shimmered in the candlelight, a contrast to the dim and wet cold outside. And so we celebrated this moment in history, when God the Son moved from the private space, the home, and entered the public space, the temple. The light of heaven entered the darkness of our world. And thus we celebrated with light, the flame from the altar lighting our tiny wicks, the candles held so carefully, so hopefully, and we turned to light the next. 

We held our flaming candles as the Gospel was read from the central aisle. In this passage, Luke 2:22+, the elders Simeon and Anna witness the appearance of their Messiah. They had waited and prayed; they had been promised this moment. Simeon took the child in his arms, blessed God, and said, 

‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel…’

These words, “Simeon’s Song,” have become a treasured part of our Evening Prayer Office. We re-affirm that we too have seen this salvation, we have seen this light that enlightens, we too know this glory that came to us from the People of Israel.

Today we ended the season of Christmas, forty days after this most holy birth-day, a time span set by Jewish law, the “law of the Lord.” Today we re-affirmed that the light of the world has come and continues to dwell among us, with us, enlightening us.

The Magdalene Mystery is largely about affirming that light. How do we know this remarkable God-story is true? How should we treat those first-century documents we call the Gospels? How do we know that the account of the empty tomb is an accurate witness? Did Mary Magdalene even exist, let alone see the risen Christ?

From Dan Brown to the Jesus Seminar to the “New Atheists,” folks have spent a good deal of time and energy trying to prove the Incarnation and the Resurrection did not happen. There must be much at stake. And there is. 

My little novel has been roaming the world since June 2013 when it first was released, when it was born. As an author I feel like a mother who has given birth and sent my child, my words, out into the world to fare one way or another, to hopefully provide a flickering flame to lighten some of the darkness.

So it is a sweet moment of delight that I experience this weekend, a time in which The Magdalene Mystery has been honored on this weekend of Candlemas, when Mary presented her son to the temple, and thus to the world. 

And now, as I glance out my window, I see the sun has burst upon my watered garden, turning the grays to greens. And I believe I see a dusting of snow on the top of Mount Diablo. 

Deo Gratias.

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