Almighty and ever-living God, clothed in majesty, whose beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple, in substance of our flesh: grant that we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts, by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.


Lord Jesus Christ, light of the nations and glory of Israel: make your home among us, and present us pure and holy to your heavenly Father, your God, and our God.

Post Communion

Lord, you fulfilled the hope of Simeon and Anna, who lived to welcome the Messiah: may we, who have received these gifts beyond words, prepare to meet Christ Jesus when he comes to bring us to eternal life; for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever.


Old Testament

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight – indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Then I will draw near to you for judgement; I will be swift to bear witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow, and the orphan, against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.

Malachi 3:1-5



1    The earth is the Lord’s and all that fills it,
the compass of the world and all who dwell therein.

2    For he has founded it upon the seas
and set it firm upon the rivers of the deep.

3    ‘Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord,
or who can rise up in his holy place?’

4    ‘Those who have clean hands and a pure heart,
who have not lifted up their soul to an idol,
nor sworn an oath to a lie;

5    ‘They shall receive a blessing from the Lord,
a just reward from the God of their salvation.’

6    Such is the company of those who seek him,
of those who seek your face, O God of Jacob.


7    Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up, you everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.

8    ‘Who is the King of glory?’
‘The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord who is mighty in battle.’

9    Lift up your heads, O gates;
be lifted up, you everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in.

10    ‘Who is this King of glory?’
‘The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory.’

Psalm 24


Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Hebrews 2:14-18


When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,

   according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation,

   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

   and for glory to your people Israel.’

And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

Luke 2:22-40

Sermon on Candlemass

Here at the end of the Christmass and Epiphany season we encounter the Nunc Dimittis as part of our Gospel reading. Here we are coming to the end of celebrations, just as Simeon admits he is coming to the end of his life. This Song of Simeon is a biblical canticle which is so very familiar to us from Evensong, and, for some of us, also familiar from popular culture. For me it is so poignant as the opening of Smiley’s People when that chorister made his impression on a world-wide television audience. At that time our choirmaster talked about the significance to evensong which these words have for the overall architecture of the worship. So let us recall Simeon’s words:

‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace,

   according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation,

   which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles

   and the glory of your people Israel.’

Just what did Simeon see when he gazed down at the child in his arms? How can he relax into a final departure just because he saw a child in a mother’s arms coming for his presentation at the Temple? How could a baby-child be the “salvation” of a nation? Simeon “was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel.” He typifies many in Israel, perhaps even many in this country, who long to rid themselves of any tyranny – foreign or domestic – in order to set up the theocracy envisioned by OT prophets and Hebrew–Jewish history.

In so much of the Levant, the notion of God ruling a nation, either in person like the Pharaohs in Egypt or through agents like the Babylonian satraps, is a given. It is a government of order, because divine rule is imprinted on the world, and kept literally. With this background of expectation of a theocracy, when Jesus preached that the Kingdom of God was at hand, we should not find it strange. Last week I spoke about the first words Jesus declared, quoting Matthew “Jesus began to proclaim, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.’” Here we have confirmation of that expected reality – Jesus is declaring the expectation of a theocracy in Israel. Simeon would have confessed that he held the symbol of that real hope right there in his arms. In the child he has seen the reality of God in the world: in the child, his own and his nation’s salvation is beheld. It is a salvation declared and prepared in the eyes of the world. This is a promise Simeon affirmed in his canticle as Simeon declares that Jesus will be a light to enlighten the whole world, whether Jew or Gentile. For the Jew, however, this child is to be the glory of Israel – the glory of God, which is far beyond mortal ken – but in him the hopes of all people will be fulfilled.

That is my summary of the historical background to this passage. I will now pay homage to the revelation of that choirmaster when he set out the framework of worship in a way that leads ultimately to the words of Simeon. Everything up to that point of evensong introduces the high drama of the glory of God in the world. He said that the singing of the canticle should reflect the drama of the whole of the worship in itself.

From the modest and quiet tones of the opening, as the humble servant of the Lord awaits his death peacefully, volume and expression becomes greater and greater until “glory” is sung. At that point we should be singing fortissimo, to be declaring all the meaning and significance of that vision of light and salvation for the world. Nothing should be held back in our expression of the depth of our faith. We should be like Paul pondering the height, the depth and the breadth of the love of God, and our conviction that nothing can keep us away from that reality. What else but fortissimo could possibly do when we proclaim the rule of God in the world?

This coincides with my understanding of those first words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew which we heard last week. Jesus is asking for the whole of our lives. After all, the two commandments he enjoined on all demand nothing less. How can we love one another except with the whole of our being? How can we love God in any other way?

Simeon has declared this reality of faith as he holds this child in his arms and we proclaim our understanding of it as we sing of the light to the world which enlightens even the Gentiles because it truly is the glory of Israel. Finally, salvation is acknowledged in the temple for all people to grasp for themselves, just as Simeon held that child and declared that his life was complete as he gazed into the eyes of that baby. Now Simeon’s life is fulfilled because God’s promise of salvation is a reality in his arms. He fears nothing and can let go of everything as he holds that child. Don’t we all feel this when we are given a new-born to hold? Isn’t all of life spreading before us in the form of the child in our arms?

At that moment, however, we are caught short. We have to turn to our God, we have to acknowledge that the very kingdom of God is just there, just beyond our grasp in the baby as that child now begins its own quest for salvation, just as we did so long ago.

Here again the historical background and our present reality drive us into a brave new world of theocracy, a government by God of his people. Once we grasp that, once we realise that God is the source and final resting-place of our very being, then we can sing with Simeon about the final glory of God here in the world.– Or can we? The words of Malachai echo at the back of my mind from our first reading –

The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight – indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

Can we stand with equanimity like Simeon, or even with his joy at the sight of this child? When we see this messenger of the kingdom, the dawning of the glory of God, can we be be hopeful? When I look over the whole of my life to this point, am I proud of it all? That is the question the prophet poses? Can I endure the heat of the light of the sun of righteousness? When those temperatures soar, can I cloak myself in the camouflage of the crowd around me and disappear? Can I endure the light cast on the world when HE appears? That prophet suggests not.

We are at the last moment of existence, when all is summed up for our lives – all the good and all the bad we have done is weighed and considered there in front of us in the child. We hope that we can, like Simeon, depart in peace because we have dedicated ourselves to the kingdom which is declared in the innocence of the child in our arms.

Let the nunc dimittis be the song for our lives. Let our lives declare the enlightenment of the world as the glory of God here on earth in word and deed. I pray that this Candlemass will be our presentation to God, as we celebrate Jesus’ own presentation in the Temple.