The Presentation of Christ in the Temple
New beginnings are often difficult. I remember leaving Airbus to go off and train to become a priest. It was exciting times. We were recently married, we had a baby on the way, I was starting something new. But they were also quite scary times. We were recently married, we had a baby on the way, I was starting something completely new. I had never studied a non-science subject, I had rarely had to write essays, I had preached maybe two times. But I knew the things I had done. I had made presentations to senior engineers and aviation authorities, I had managed contracts with suppliers, I had managed teams of engineers. I also had life experiences, I’d travelled. And I wasn’t alone – I had friends and I had family, I had Helen who supported me. I took those memories of what I could do, and of what I had seen, and those people I knew were with me, and I then knew that even if what I was going to face was scary, even if it felt beyond me, I would get through.
Of course, sometimes it is the most unlikely places one finds the encouragement and support one needs in life. At my last parish there was a lady who I would visit, she was rarely able to get up and would usually fall asleep in the fifteen minutes I would spend with her during a visit. Perhaps forgotten by many, But she was always so encouraging, always had something nice to say and she always gave me a blessing. I was never sure if I visited for her benefit or my own.
As a country we have taken a step this week as Brexit has now truly begun. The process of getting here has brought to light divisions in our society, it has also come with an increase in racist abuse, an increase in anti-semitism, an increase in xenophobia and at a time when our impact on the climate has become most pressing. Whatever happens with trade negotiations and economies as a country, and as a world, we have other more worrying issues to address. There is darkness that we have glimpsed, there are places where light needs to be shone. We will need to be willing to listen to and take seriously the voices of those on the edges, those with whom we disagree, and we will need to have some hope that we are not alone in working to get through it.
Today is candlemas, 40 days after Christmas, when we remember this story of Jesus being brought to the Temple and being discovered by Simeon and Anna. We don’t know much about either of them. We are told Simeon was righteous and devout – he’d literally been touched – we are told – by the Holy Spirit. We presume he was advanced in years because of the nature of his prophecy – ‘Lord lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.’ But he is not, seemingly, a temple priest he is not there to do either the rite of purification or take the offering for the first born son. Anna, we are told, is a prophet and of a great age. She prays in the Temple day and night. We might all think we would see Simeon and Anna and go directly to them for advice or support, but really, I think I would probably give them a wide birth, at least initially. I wonder what Mary thought when Simeon approached her and grabbed her tiny baby – only 40 days old.
Throughout Christmas and Epiphany there is a juxtaposition between hosts and guests. Jesus comes to his world which he made, and there is no room for him to stay, he is welcomed there by Shepherds, who are on the fringes – living in the hills with their flocks. Magi come travelling to welcome the new king into the world – but he and his family offer hospitality to them. John’s disciples go to see if Jesus has come to them, and he invites them to come and stay with him. Jesus attends a wedding as a guest, and provides the hospitality. And today Jesus comes into the temple, God coming to his own home on earth. And yet, this juxtaposition of host and guest continues, Simeon and Anna, in many ways people on the fringes, are the ones who recognise and welcome him. Simeon warns Mary that Jesus is destined for the falling and rising of many – the Gospel is nothing if it isn’t about turning things on their heads – the first will be last, the guest will be host, the child will lead them…
So it is for us. It is not simply up to the officials to be the church. The priest the church wardens, the pcc. Christ’s church is not about power and control of the few: We all bear the light of Christ. Today’s service ends differently from every other service in the year. During the last hymn we will process to the font, holding candles which remind us of the candles we held at Christmas, as a sign of the light coming into the world and gathered round that place where we become members of the Church, give thanks for our lives and are purified by the love of God. Much in the same way that in today’s story Jesus and Mary enter the Temple for their ritual purification, and for Jesus to be given thanks for and admitted to the Temple for the first time. Gathering there, turning from the Altar to the Font, as in our calendar we turn from Christmas towards Lent. We will hold our candles and remind ourselves of the joy of the light coming into the world. We will remember that this light is in us now, that the candles are no longer necessary, and we will blow them out – committed to shine that light for ourselves. Relying on God’s steadfast faith in us. And then, rather than me offering you a blessing like I do each week – we all, like Simeon and Anna, will bless one another. Because we cannot be that light on our own, we are that light because we are in Christ and Christ is in us and in Christ we are united with one another. We rely on one another, the most unlikely or unexpected people among us can be the greatest blessing for us. So whatever the divisions, whatever the challenges we face, we know that we are not alone as we go out taking the light into the darkest corners of our world.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams
8.00am Morning Prayer in the lady chapel
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School
Christian Meditation Wednesdays at 9.10am
Said Eucharist on Wednesdays at 11.00am
Monday through Thursday at 5.30pm
Please note that Public worship has been suspended, you can therefore participate in these services via Facebook live stream
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