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11am Holy Communion      31st January 2021
Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple
Jan Rushton

Readings: Malachi 3.1-5; Luke 2.21-40

 

Today we go back again to Jesus’ birth.  Candlemas, technically on Tuesday,  forty days after his birth to be precise!

Luke the Gentile, is at pains to record Jesus with his parents, setting out in life faithfully observing Jewish ritual at the Temple.

They come ‘to do what is required of them' by Jewish Law.  An obedience to the Jewish Law which once more leads to another presentation of Jesus to the world, in Simeon and Anna's astonishing declarations.

 

At the time that Luke wrote his gospel, the growing Jewish Christian sect was being pushed out of the synagogue in no uncertain terms - witness Paul's murderous intentions before his conversion!

The emergent Church was becoming ever more Gentile by the day.  Nevertheless, the Christ whom Gentile Luke has given his life to follow, is Jewish, and his family observant of Jewish Law.

 

A fact the Church has mostly chosen to ignore until around seventy-five years ago now, following the Holocaust.  How good to keep remembrance this last week of the liberation of the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Berkenau.

Holocaust Remembrance Day. The 27th of January 1945.  Good to remember the reality that as Christians our roots are Jewish.  Anna and Simeon's sensitivity to the moving of the Spirit brings them face to face with the longed for Messiah!

This baby born to be ‘Light to the Gentiles and for the glory of Israel’. How can they know this?  Both are steeped in prayer, meditation and fasting down many long years.

Anna a widow in the Temple, and Simeon living a devout and righteous life from his home.

They have been hungry to hear that word of God revealing God's wisdom and purposes to them.  They have patiently trusted, listened, waited for the word of God to come to them.

Simeon we are told, has never lost hope of a mighty revelation!  He believes the word he has heard, that he shall see God's salvation before he dies.

 

Equally important each have open minds and hearts.  They have the inner freedom to perceive the presence of God in the most unexpected of places.

How could they be so sure that this tiny baby, a mere 40 days old, was God’s Messiah, come to set Israel free?  This tiny baby born to the most ordinary of couples, so poor they could only afford a pair of doves and not the customary lamb?

Yet Simeon and Anna do perceive such great things to come for this child they behold.

 

As we remember the turbulent events surrounding Jesus' birth, how must his mother and Joseph have been feeling at this point.  Almost certainly for both of them, they were troubled and perplexed.  Their lives have been turned upside down by the coming of this baby.  Can they really trust the understanding they have come to share about his birth?

Or have their bewildered and exhausted minds simply come up with some fantastical notion, something to pacify and soothe their racing heads?

 

 

As is always sensible in difficult circumstances, they get on with what is needed to be done.  Stop your mind whirling with the known round and maybe, maybe order will emerge. And order does emerge.

Two strangers who know nothing of Mary and Joseph's vision and dream confirm all that they have come to understand and believe!  They are not losing their grip on reality after all!

Their child does have a special place in God's plans for humanity!  In these extraordinary events God has not just brought comfort and joy to Simeon and Anna in the sight of this child, through their faithful listening

God has brought reassurance and comfort to his parents.  How forever thankful will Mary and Joseph be for their witness!  Mary we are told, pondered these things in her heart.  And no doubt as Jesus was growing up she gently revealed this story to him.

 

Then, then Simeon goes on to warn Mary of fierce struggle and pain ahead.

She was going to need great courage as she lives with her first born son.  It is not joy that is Simeon and Anna's gift to Mary.  It is faith and self-belief and courage.

Courage to take hold of life to the full no matter her circumstances.  These events conclude our Christmas celebrations!  Matching and preceding the 40 days of Lent,  Candlemas marks the end of 40 days of Christmas.  Forty days which remind us that God is just as much concerned with celebration as with the testing and discipline of forty days of Lent.

 

 

Jesus’ presentation in the Temple stands at the moment of movement from one to the other.  And it holds within it the full range of passion:

Exultation, glory, joy - and the very real presence within all the heightened emotion, the reality of conflict and sorrow to come.  The joy of nurturing this incredible child will be costly indeed for Mary.  In the joy of presenting her new baby to God in the Temple,

Mary also has to face the reality that her child is born into difficult and complex circumstances, that the mission to which God has called him will draw him into jealousies and persecution, and though she cannot see it now, ultimately take him to the executioner's tree.

Nevertheless first, there is joy and assurance, faith and courage as Jesus grows in wisdom and maturity.

And nothing, nothing, can defeat the love of God revealed in him.  In the story of the Presentation, is held before us the realities of joy and pain, so often mixed together.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, member of the failed plot to assassinate Hitler, declares in a poem from his Tegel prison cell -

 

Imperturbable, mighty, ruinous and compelling, sorrow and joy - summoned or all unsought for - processionally enter.

Those they encounter they transfigure, investing them with strange gravity and a spirit of worship.  The promise remains that within all the tensions of our lives, God is waiting to meet us with hope and peace and fulfilment.  Ten days ago we were given a taste of new hope.  The possibility of freedom from whimsy and tyranny, in the inauguration of President Biden and Vice-President Harris.  -456I want to end with words from that ceremony:

 

From the second Roman Catholic President of the United States,

Joe Biden:
Together, we shall write an American story of hope, not fear.
Of unity, not division. Of light, not darkness.
An American story of decency and dignity.
Of love and of healing. Of greatness and of goodness.
May this be the story that guides us. The story that inspires us.
The story that tells ages yet to come that we answered the call of history.
We met the moment.
That democracy and hope, truth and justice,
did not die on our watch but thrived.
That our America secured liberty at home
and stood once again as a beacon to the world.

And from that astonishing young poet laureate, Amanda Gorman:
We will rebuild, reconcile and recover
in every known nook of our nation,
in every corner called our country
our people diverse and beautiful will emerge battered and beautiful.
When day comes, we step out of the shade aflame and unafraid.
The new dawn blooms as we free it.
For there is always light.
If only we’re brave enough to see it.
If only we’re brave enough to be it.

 

Amen.

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