Sermons from St Faith's     


Denise McDougall, February 3rd, 2013

From a commercial perspective everything related to Christmas is now well and truly over, even the January sales have been and gone. However the liturgical season keeps us focused for much longer and today we celebrate Candlemas or the Presentation of Christ. By tradition this is the 40th and last day of the Christmas season and is sometimes spoken of as the day when the Church’s year changes direction; we stop looking back to Christmas and begin to look forward to Lent, Good Friday and Easter. In today’s Gospel reading we heard about two people who despite their advanced years show some of the positive attributes of old age. They represent a simplicity and wisdom and as Simeon blesses the Saviour of the world old gives way to new, age to youth, and Mary realizes even more clearly the uniqueness of her child.

 Luke takes us beyond the manger at Bethlehem to the Temple at Jerusalem and as we heard in the reading from Malachi, ‘The Lord you are seeking will suddenly enter his temple’.

As the story unfolds Mary and Joseph would have been settling into their roles as parents and experiencing the same emotions as all new mums and dads, and they were also doing everything that was expected of them in Jewish Law. Jesus had been circumcised at 8 days old and now Mary was to observe the purification law.

The Jewish ritual of purification took place because women were considered to be unclean after the birth of a child and weren’t even allowed to go into the Temple to worship. It took place 40 days after the birth of a son and 60 days after the birth of a daughter and the mother went to the sanctuary in the Temple or synagogue to be ritually purified. This then meant that she could go back to religious services and generally go out in public again.  I do wonder what 21C traditionalists make of that one!

Mary and Joseph were doing what was expected of them but because of the intervention of two old people their Temple visit turned out to be very different from what they anticipated. What began as an ordinary routine event turned into something extra-ordinary and unique. Simeon and Anna from the Temple display the wisdom which begins with attentiveness to God and God’s word and although from very different backgrounds they were both able to recognise the significance of what was going on around them. Their longing belonged to their circumstances, they were people of God oppressed by a foreign power, longing for the promised Saviour who would set them free. And both were rewarded for waiting so faithfully in hope, keeping their vision alive and trusting that God would not let them down.

Simeon was probably an active man in the temple, in society and business and was waiting for God to comfort Israel. Inspired by the Holy Spirit he entered the temple as Jesus was brought in and immediately recognised in the child the fulfilment of the salvation that God has promised. On seeing the child Simeon echoes the prophet Isaiah’s words, ‘a light to lighten the Gentiles as well as being the glory of God’s people.’ Here we have the vulnerability but also the wisdom of the old and the vulnerability along with the innocence of a tiny baby. Jesus’ humanity is powerfully pictured not as a mighty warrior but an ordinary and yet at the same time an extraordinary baby, he enters into the weakness of our lives to fulfil his unique role as Saviour from sin and death, Jesus Christ the true ruler of the world, the promised Messiah, the real King; this tiny baby is to offer a very different kingdom to that of Caesar Augustus. And although we don’t know how long it was before Simeon died after he had recognised Jesus we do know he was able to depart in peace.

Anna we are told never left the Temple where she spent her time worshipping, fasting praying and waiting. We have all experienced the anxieties of waiting especially if it is news of a loved one away from home or an operation or test results, we long for the wait to be over but none of these much shorter periods of waiting can ever compare to Anna’s steadfast hope and longing for the Messiah. Perhaps next time we get thoroughly frustrated or impatient about something we should think of her unwavering  faith, commitment and patience and let her characteristics help to shape us. 
These two old people had the great gift of prophecy, prophecy that is in the most classic OT sense, the ability to see beneath the obvious and to proclaim openly what is really happening in what appears to be a very ordinary situation; they were also realistic enough to say that things wouldn’t be easy.
Simeon was given the confidence to proclaim what effect Jesus would have on Israel. ‘He would be the cause for the rise and fall of many.’ He warns Mary that Jesus will face the conflict between God’s saving purpose and people’s opposition and that he will be rejected and that Mary too will share in his pain. Harsh words but they impress upon Mary the unfolding uniqueness of her Son. The presentation of Jesus in the temple foreshadows his later entrance into Jerusalem, where he will present himself to his Father on the cross, as the true sacrifice for our salvation.
So Simeon and Anna, welcome Jesus in the holiest place in Israel as the Light and Redeemer of the world, Jesus is the fulfilment of God’s promise for everyone and that includes us.  As Christ is re-presented to us today we are all being challenged to respond with renewed commitment to the Gospel and of course with Jesus there are no half measures, no compromise or neutral ground. If we follow him we have to make choices not only about what we believe but also about what we practice and how we live out our beliefs in our everyday lives. We do have the choice to either accept or reject God’s will and plan for us but if our desire is to mature spiritually then failing to accept God’s challenge or being swayed to do something else instead of praying or worshipping is not only detrimental  to our own spiritual growth but also the growth of the Church.  We should have the courage to speak out to others about what the Christ –child and what our faith means to us. Of course this can’t just happen in a vacuum it comes from being faithful, interpreting the scriptures, being devout in prayer and worship and consistently working to be more Christ-like. And as we approach Lent what great opportunities there are for spiritual growth, The CTW courses on offer at different times and venues, Wednesday mornings at SM with reflection and discussion based around Gospel readings and relationships, Stations of the Cross on Fridays and Sunday addresses led by Mirfield ordinands, Bishop James’ Lent course at the Cathedral. They are all there for the taking, not that I am suggesting you go to everything!

So, as we move towards Lent and journey to the Cross together I hope we all grow in wisdom and understanding and proclaim openly what God is really doing in our lives. Aging is inevitable and yes it does eventually bring limitations but for those of us of a certain generation we have lots of life and faith experiences which we should share with younger generations.  Age may not be considered as a time for productivity but it can be a time for fruitfulness, a special time to share the wisdom we have acquired over the years.
Simeon and Anna didn’t ever give up and neither must we and then perhaps one day we too will be able to say Lord your servant can now go in peace .......  ‘

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