Candlemas and the Light of the Nations

“Christ is the light of the nations.” With these majestic words the Second Vatican Council began the greatest of its documents, the “Constitution on the Church.” Fundamental to everything else that came forth from the council were the reaffirmation of the missionary character of the church, the recognition of the unfinished task which that implies, the confession that the church is a pilgrim people on its way to the ends of the earth and the end of time, and the acknowledgment of a new openness to the world.

~Bishop Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret: An Introduction to the Theology of Mission. Revised Edition. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 1.

As I reflect on the themes of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple and Candlemas, I am reminded that the Blessed Virgin, along with the prophets Simeon and Anna, lift up Christ within the Temple as a kind of first fruits and sacrifice. We ourselves are the Temple built of living stones, the Body of Christ, which the Spirit binds together in faith, hope, and love. In every celebration of the Holy Eucharist, we are presented to the Father, along with the other gifts, by, with, and in Christ. We are

the ones who have come to know the blessings of his light long expected. We rejoice with God’s prophets and the poor in the gift of the Savior. We find ourselves in communion with all those who pour their hearts out night and day to God.

Whatever one thinks of the present state of ecumenical relations with the Roman Catholic Church, it would be hard to find a student of the history and mission of the Church who did not see the Second Vatican Council and in particular the document Lumen Gentium as an amazing step forward, not just for the Roman Catholic Church but for all Christians everywhere. The document, like several others, bears the stamp of the great Jesuit theologian, Karl Rahner. For the Council, the Church is missionary of its very nature and a kind of sacramental reality that makes Christ present in every time and place. And, as Newbigin rightly insists, there is an acknowledgment of a new openness to the world.

There are aspects of Lumen Gentium that I suspect many of us who are not Roman Catholic would find hard to swallow, but the basic perspective has long influenced ecumenical reflection on mission in all communions. Truly the Church is called and sent by the One who is light and truth for all people and nations, namely Jesus Christ, God’s definitive offer of mercy for the world, especially the “least of these” and those who have God alone for their helper.

Truly, we are the Temple and the pilgrim People of God, present in all times and places, bearing witness by what we do and say, by how we suffer and struggle and forgive and watch and love and pray. And wherever we are, in all our frailty and brokenness, there also is Christ himself.

Truly, he is the light of the world.

Truly, every flame has become a sign of his Holy Spirit, the Lord and life-giver, the one who spoke by the prophets.

Truly, the many lights–and there are many–now bear witness to the one true Light.

Truly, all truth, all goodness, and all beauty, wherever they are found, have their source and find their goal in Him.

The Rev. Bill Carroll serves as Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Athens, Ohio. His parish blog is here

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