Luke 2 22 – 40 – Candlemas
Last Friday was Holocaust Memorial Day when we are invited to take some time to reflect not just on the horrific events that occurred in Europe as a result of the Nazi regime in Germany but also other acts of genocide that have resulted in the deaths of he numbers of people from specific ethnic groups, such as that carried out in Rwanda. Holocaust MemorialDay has always had a significant impact on me, knowing that if it hadn’t been for the preemptive acts of my maternal great grandparents in leaving Europe when they did they too would have been victims. Yet it only this year that I realised how close the Memorial Day is to Candlemas, the presentation of Christ in the temple.
As I reflected on the passage from the Gospel that Julia/I have just read I lingered on the word Gentile. When I was a child my dad, who was a Christian, would often say when he switched on the lights at home – a light to light the Gentiles. I didn’t really think much about it at the time – it was just one of his sayings which to be honest I was a bit bored with! I had a vague idea what he was talking about as even at an early age I knew what a Gentile was – my mum was Jewish and my dad was a Gentile and as for me – well I was just a bit confused to be honest! As the years passed the phrase my dad used in such a commonplace way always stayed with me – only now its meaning has a significance that I would never have imagined. And today there is an additional poignancy as I preach my last sermon in this parish before moving on to where God is now calling me. Throughout my time here three words have run through like a golden thread and each has a strong link to this passage so I will use these as my theme today.
The words are Faith, Love and Hope.
Faith “For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles” So proclaims Simeon on meeting Mary and Joseph in the temple as they arrive to present their beautiful new baby son to God, to give thanks for his birth and to acknowledge the gift of new life with which they have been entrusted. Simeon has been waiting patiently for this moment. He knew that before he died God would show him the salvation of Israel, that the Holy Spirit would come upon him and he would know that the light of the world was present. And his faith was indeed rewarded on that day as he blessed the Holy Family and spoke prophetically to Mary and Joseph of the destiny that lay ahead for the tiny helpless baby they cradled.
Simeon’s words must have been hard for them to hear as he spoke of those who would be against their Son. I wonder how Mary felt when Simeon told her of the sorrow that she would experience – “and a sword will pierce your own soul too” not exactly what you want to hear on a day that should be full of joy. The expressions of faith that I have seen in this place have been many and varied – the unquestioning faith of small children as they have listened attentively to Bible stories, the faith that God will provide when our resources have been low, and indeed he always has, the enduring and strong faith of much loved members of our community as they near the end of their earthly lives, certain that of where they are going. In witnessing all of these expressions of faith, the foundations of my own faith have grown ever firmer and my hope for the world has been strengthened.
The words of Anna in our passage are a beautiful expression of a hope that has been realised. Glory be to God on high, and on earth peace to those he chooses, she proclaims. I have waited long for this day, the day when the Messiah, the King of the world, comes to earth. The Word has become flesh and lives amongst us, and we see his glory, the glory of the Father’s only son, full of grace and truth. Glory to God in the highest, and glory to his only Son, Jesus! Anna praised God and talked about Jesus to all those who were waiting for God to free Jerusalem. Her message was one of deep hope borne out of her own experience of waiting.
• Waiting for the Messiah, that which had been fore told / prophesied about in scripture.
• Expectant of what this would mean From scripture Anna knew the Messiah would mean change someone to save them. Salvation means ‘preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss’ that certainly is what the people of God were waiting for.
• Excited at the prospect of something new in this baby – innocent and small, blameless and uncorrupted. The physical ‘seeing with my own eye’ but there was also a deep down sense of knowing beyond understanding. You can almost sense the JOY as Simeon says ‘a light for all the world / nations / gentiles’ and as Anna talked to those waiting about Jesus.
• Joy that would last long after Anna’s own earthly life had ended.
And it is from that joy that love is born. We see the parental love of Mary and Joseph bringing their first born to thank God for him and we also see the love of God fulling his promise not just to Anna and Simeon but to all of humanity. I feel truly privileged to have been part of a community that witnesses to the love of God through acts of love, often unseen and unnoticed but treasured by those who have benefited, myself included.
As we celebrate this festival of light in the Christian calendar we are reminded of the importance of light in many cultures – Diwali and Chanukah are probably the most well known but in many places in the world the life giving force of light is celebrated with joy and thanksgiving. Holocaust Memorial Day reminds us of periods of great darkness in the history of the world but even in the midst of that darkness, there were acts of love that enabled the light to shine through, however dimly, however briefly. As we begin to look to the spring, as the evenings become ever so slightly lighter, as the sky becomes brighter we are thankful that another winter has passed. We begin to plan how to spend the extra hours of daylight, we are hopeful that not only will the world be lighter but warmer and more welcoming as well.
Humans crave light. We are not naturally nocturnal creatures and I always admire those who work through the night caring for the sick, keeping our power supplies running, undertaking maintenance to our transport systems in order to minimise disruption during the day, ensuring that goods are transported across the country so that when we turn up at the shops, or perhaps more likely in this season do our online order, the shelves are well stocked. Yet sometimes we fail to fully embrace the light that Jesus brings to the world. Our lives cannot be fulfilled for as long as we remain in the darkness, without the presence of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – ever present in all that we do.
Of course one aspect of light is that not only does it glorify that which is beautiful it also highlights flaws – like when the sun shines through the window and you can see the particles of dust dancing in the air despite your best efforts at dusting! If we are prepared to fully accept the presence of the light it can cause us to really focus on that which is imperfect , that which needs our attention, that which we need to fix as part of our walk with God. Our faith journey can be very like any other journey that we undertake – we may begin in the darkness but gradually the dawn breaks and the light begins to illuminate our path. Very gradually to start with and then as the light grows stronger we can see more clearly, we grow in confidence as we stride out ever more boldly in the knowledge that God is alongside us guiding us as we navigate the challenges that we meet.
But of course we should never take the presence of the light for granted. Rare as they may be, eclipses can occur. Darkness can fall suddenly and we falter in our progress, perhaps even coming to a complete halt. Sometimes we may feel that our brokenness may not enable us to face the light. Yet it is through our brokenness, through the cracks that may appear in our lives, that the light can shine even more brightly, that its restorative power can be felt even more strongly.
Luke’s account of the presentation of Jesus in the temple points not only to his importance to the people of Israel but to the whole world. As a Gentile himself Luke had experienced the redeeming love of Jesus in his life and had made it his life’s work to share the Gospel with others that they too may come to know Jesus as Saviour and Lord. Simeon and Anna were blessed through their faith in God and the presence of the Holy Spirit to recognise that Jesus was the Light of the world sent to redeem all of humanity from the darkness of sin. As I prepare to leave you today my prayer for all of is that our faith grows ever more stronger, that our hope that the world will reflect the kingdom of God never diminishes and that our love for God and for each other continues to burn brightly, a light to light the way for us all wherever we may be as we each journey on as followers of Jesus.Amen