Maureen's Candlemas sermon - 3rd February 2014

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Bible Readings:
Malachi 3:1-4
Luke 2: 22-40 Page

Candlemas falls mid-winter so there are many weather proverbs, one of which is:

If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight
If Candlesmas brings cloud and rain
Winter won’t come again.

We gather here this morning as other Sunday mornings to Pause and Ponder and to present ourselves before God.
I suppose this mornings readings and thoughts are full of ‘P’s, but not the green variety: of Praise, Purification, Prophecy, Patience, Perseverence, Prayer, Peace to mention a few.

The readings we heard come from the church lectionary for Celebrating a Principal Feast: Candlemass, The Presentation of Christ in the Temple.

At Candlemas we see in the imagery of the candles, the light of Christ, which we are all called to carry, and bring throughout the world, to scatter the darkness, and become a warming light to all humanity.
Edith Wharton wrote that there are two ways of spreading the light; to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.

In our first reading today we heard from the prophet MalachI who tells us that if we are to become a light to the nations, we must begin by purifying ourselves so that Christ’s light burns brightly within us, and can radiate through us to all whom we meet.

Through Epiphany we’ve rediscovered the revelations brought to us by scripture; we pondered on the gifts of the Magi, which signify the purpose for which Christ was born, to become a sacred offering, to die, and become the gift more valuable than the most precious gifts of this world. It is this reality, the gift of the presence of Christ in this world, that we have been celebrating since Christmas and, in a special way, we conclude that celebration today by receiving the light and hope of Christ.

St. Teresa of Avila describes our interior spiritual life using the image of a mansion or castle. Each of us, as human beings, are complicated and complex persons with a biography full of experiences, good and bad, as well as our own thoughts on how to live our life, and the desires we have for our life. Our influences, thoughts, and desires all contribute to the way we live out our life, and how we allow Christ to be a part of our life. Jesus is the light that illumines the many rooms in the great mansion of our souls. He is the source of warmth, which gives us a sense of meaning and purpose, and clarity, which gives us direction, for our lives.

The Prophet Malachi foretells the coming of the great refiner who will purify us so that we may be able to offer true sacrifice to the Lord. “Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem will please the LORD” – the sacrifice of both the head and the heart.

This will bring peace and unity: peace to the heart and the mind, because it is through the peace of Christ that his light brings warmth to the heart, and clarity to the mind.

In our Gospel reading Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to the temple to receive the light of God in his life but Jesus came and gave the light to all who received Him!
Back to our ‘P’s and the prophetic, persistent, patient Simeon & Anna. We hear of Simeon who was looking for Jesus. He’d been promised he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Christ – the Messiah. So, when he finally discovered the child, this wasn’t just the highlight of his day… this was the highlight of his life. And that’s why he’s able to pray in the words we know as the Nunc dimittis,

“Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word – for mine eyes have seen they salvation which thou promised before the face of all people.”

His hope has been fulfilled.

Both for Simeon and Anna the secret of the peace they received was that they were prepared themselves to receive it: Simeon wasn’t a particularly important man, but he was known as righteous and devout. The Word for “devout” in the Greek means “taking a good hold” on something. Being devout for Simeon meant that God was at the centre of his life his first consideration.

And it was the same with Anna. We’re told she was constantly in the Temple day and night. She was known for her fasting and prayers – and was always worshipping God. She lived a life of humble patience. She was 84 years old, a widow, and her life was fully dedicated to God; Anna had not allowed bereavement to destroy her. Instead, Anna was living a life of devotion to God – a life of prayer and patience a life that led to her hopes being fulfilled to a time of supreme thankfulness.

Why does Luke’s account have these characters figuring in the gospel? Is it because their devotion was in sharp contrast to the occasional religious observance going on all around them; or is it because these are two people for whom worship is a personal encounter with the living God with whom they are in an active relationship – who were dedicated people who loved God with all of their hearts, souls and minds.

And it was to them that God revealed his promises of the coming Messiah. There’d have been literally hordes of other people in the Temple; loads of other people to whom God could have revealed his plans… but it was to these two that God revealed his message of peace and hope.

What are we hoping for?
If we were invited to describe our dreams for tomorrow – for ourselves, our family, our friends, our church, I wonder what we’d say. Perhaps we’re not sure. Or maybe we’ve lost hope. Or even forgotten what we were hoping for? Let’s go back to where we started with our Gospel reading:

Tom Wright invites us to join Him in the Temple on that spring afternoon to the outer court where crowds ebb and flow, and stallholders cry their wares:
“Come buy – a kid for your sacrifice?” “Doves – turtle-doves….only the best”
Watch the bustle, the purposeful activity of the market-place.
There are rich people strolling by with friends and hangers-on, soldiers from the occupying forces looking down from their watchtower, plenty of beggars hoping to cash in on the pilgrims sense of God’s mercy and the obligation to be generous in turn.
Is this what you expected of the house of God?
Pause for a while, look about you: Watch for islands of stillness amid the surging throngs. See that man standing quietly…..thoughtful…..hopeful?
Ah yes…hopeful indeed, for this is Simeon.

Simeon the one who waits.

Most people don’t notice the young couple coming in with their little baby. Happens all the time. No different from countless others. But as they approach, him he gets up slowly from his seat. He has a strange look in his eyes. What’s he thinking? What’s he going to say?
Who knows for how many years he has stood in hopeful expectation – the eyes of his heart straining to glimpse the “consolation of Israel” that the Messiah – the one anointed, chosen by God, would offer when he came.
Simeon, clinging to the assurance that he will not die before he has seen and known that Saviour.
Just a man, a woman and a baby – and two turtle doves.
Yet as he moves towards them Simeon is sure.
This is the moment. Here is the promised salvation…seen as he takes the infant into his arms and praises God. For Simeon, salvation looks like a baby boy, just 40 days old.
God’s answer, the hope of Israel, might lie in that tiny fragile body.
Now he can ‘die in peace.’

How do we feel when we hear those words: what does it make us want to do , or to pray? Does it sustain our hopefulness?

On Karen’s recommendation I followed Bishop Stephen’s blog on Psalm 94 and this week as he came towards the end of his meditations he said

All of us will live today and this week in a world and culture which is largely without faith: which has no expectation of God’s love and grace, no confidence that God will hear or answer prayer, no hope that anything can change. The Church becomes infected daily with that cynicism and shallow expectation.

As I look back on the last hundred years in the life of this Diocese, I see scores of examples of big, expectant faith – not least in the founding of the Diocese itself and in the planting of so many churches down the years (which continues to this day). I see faith in building projects past and present, in bold ventures of community engagement, in prophetic witness, in people entrusting their lives afresh to Christian faith, in others investing their lives in ministry. I see faith in the daily, sacrificial giving of the people of God in this place.
And that is why it is so important that we come, daily, to listen for God’s voice, to read the very different world view of the scriptures, to recentre our lives upon faith in God. As we do that we go out into the world believing and expectant that God is at work: we look for where God is working and where we can join in.

We will have a time of quiet now where we can sit and ponder on God’s promises to us let us think of how we can keep alive the hope of the light of Christ in our lives.
Or we can come and light a candle as we pray for the Holy spirit to give
Us wisdom and inspiration to know what to pray for and how to recognize God’s moment when it comes!!

If Candlemas be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight
If Candlemas brings cloud and rain
Winter won’t come again.