I found myself in Times Square Friday afternoon, and got quite a shock.
It seems there’s a big football game this weekend. And a lot of people decided to come here to see it.
The neighborhood Friday was absolutely mobbed. Tourists, media, vendors—it was incredible. The city has definitely caught Super Bowl fever.
There have been a lot of stories in the press about this, and how the New York area is celebrating its first Super Bowl. But one story by the AP caught my eye.
This week, it said, the Port Authority installed over 150 colored LED lights on the George Washington Bridge, lighting it up in Bronco orange and Seahawk green.
And in midtown, two huge buildings— one on Bryant Park and another in Times Square—have also been decorated in honor of the game. Tonight, both towers will be lit half-orange and half-green. During the game, the colors will change, depending on who is winning and by what margin. If you aren’t by a TV set, just look up in midtown Manhattan tonight, and you’ll be able to tell who’s ahead.
It reminds us of how we so often use light for drama, or celebration, or just to make the world more joyful.
The city will almost look like Christmas. And that struck me as perfect. It’s only fitting that this extravagant secular celebration of light is happening on this Christian celebration of light: the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, or Candlemas. It’s been a decade or so since this feast last fell on a Sunday. I think we need to give it its due.
This is a moment for cherishing once more the greatest gift that arrived 40 days ago on Christmas. The gift of our salvation. The gift of Christ.
The gift of light.
The holy and aged Simeon in today’s gospel said as much, when he finally beheld what the world has been waiting for:
“My eyes have seen your salvation, which you prepared in the sight of all the peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
He wasn’t talking about the Super Bowl.
No, the really big event we mark today, the truly important one, recalls something as old as time itself.
In Genesis, you’ll remember, God’s first words speak to a formless world bathed in shadow. From nothing, he created everything, and he began his creation with those simple, profoundly important words:
“Let there be light.”
It would be countless generations after that—after man’s fall, and his wanderings, and his exile and his despair and his sin—before light would again come into a world lost in darkness.
Now, Candlemas remembers that, and it does this at a moment when we might be tempted to forget. Let’s be honest: it’s 40 days after the holiday. The decorations have come down. The gifts have been returned or forgotten. The toys have been broken. The last of the fruitcake has been thrown out. We’ve stopped singing carols about joy and glory and wonder. It looks like we’re back into the dead of winter.
But Candlemas says: wait. You’re wrong. The light still burns. A flame defies the dark. Bring forth a candle and let’s share in that light.
It’s been an ancient custom in the Church to bless candles on this feast—hence, the name. We are at the halfway point between the shortest day of the year, in December, and the Spring equinox in mid-March. The blessing of candles gives us encouragement for the remaining days of winter. It offers us the profound hope that we will be sustained by holy light—and uplifted and guided by the Greatest Light, the light that is Christ.
This feast cries out to us: Christmas was just the beginning. There is more.
It says, to those who are tempted to despair during these cold dark days: there is still light.
To those who have forgotten the bright promise of a star: there is still light.
To anyone who fears, or who worries, or who wonders about what the future may hold: there is still light!
More than light, there is hope. Unto us a child has been born, a son has been given: “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.”
Our fallen world has been redeemed. Forty days ago, the angel told the shepherds: do not be afraid. Now, all these weeks later, the feast we celebrate today repeats that message.
You probably won’t think about that tonight, when you see the city bathed in colored lights. And after the kickoff tonight, chances are you won’t be remembering the words of Simeon. You’ll be thinking more about Peyton Manning and Richard Sherman.
But we shouldn’t let this opportunity get away, this chance to recall the hope that was born in our hearts in December. The flame still burns.
And long after they’ve turned off the bulbs on the George Washington bridge, and doused the floodlights in midtown…this light will continue to pierce the dark.