Tuesday, February 02, 2021

The Presentation of the Lord - A Light to Enlighten All Creation

Today is the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemass. Here is Rembrandt’s wonderful painting of the scene. It strikes me that the Baroque style, with its strong contrast of light and dark, is particularly powerful in communicating Christ as the Light entering the darkness, which is such a strong theme of this feast. The artists uses color so sparingly that one cannot help but be drawn to the primary focus of the composition. We see the one who gave the Law to Moses, and who now enters the temple 40 days after His birth. In doing so, He is fulfilling the letter of Law and is, simultaneously, its fulfillment. Even Moses only saw the back of God and through a cloud; Simeon the Elder saw the Light directly, and recognized Him for who He was. And so now He is presented before all people (including us), a light to enlighten the gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel.

Every time I light a candle, I am going to try to bring this mind!
It also reminds me of another Baroque painting, St Joseph and Our Lord, by Georges De La Tour.
On the face of it, the light source is the candle, which shines on the two figures. But in reality, the source of light is the Light, the figure of the young Christ, who brings the candle into existence without any diminution of the source. As it burns, it is in fact a reflection of Him that might, in turn, direct our attention back to Him, and so give glory to Him. As in the Baptism of Christ, whereby He is the source which sanctified the waters, so that we might be baptized and give glory to Him, so here He is the enlightenment of every man and all creation, to His greater glory.
We can extend this metaphor into everyday life, and reveal the presence of God in the mundane by evoking this imagery in other settings. Here is a painting by the 19th century Belgian artist Petrus Van Schendel, who seems to have adopted the Baroque style of de La Tour. Both are called Market by Candlelight

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