Sermon preached on Candlemas (transferred), Sunday, January 31, 2016, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
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Lectionary texts: Malachi 3.1-5; Psalm 24.1-10; Hebrews 2.14-18; Luke 2.22-40.
In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The feast that we celebrate today has long and ancient history. First celebrated in the churches of the east, now called Orthodox, it was called the Meeting of the Lord. It was later adopted by the church of the West were it received the name that we give it today, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. It is also known as Candlemas, as it was the traditional day when folks would bring their candles, their main source of light during the winter months, to church to have them blessed at the feast day mass. It has always been a special day for me, because from my earliest childhood my mother would remind me, that like Jesus, I was taken to the church and as the first born, dedicated to the Lord. Believe it or not, it is also the Church’s official end to the Christmas season. Don’t feel bad, if you have left up some decoration or outside lighting, even the Pope in Rome leaves up the manger scene in Vatican Square until this feast.
Our Gospel begins, with the second and third of three significant religious rituals to be experienced by the Infant Jesus and his family. In the verse immediately preceding today’s Gospel, we would have learned that in accordance with religious tradition, that on the eighth day Jesus would have been circumcised and given his name Jesus in the Greek the name by which we acknowledge him today which is a translation of the Hebrew name of Joshua which means Yahweh is our Salvation or Deliverer.
In the Gospel reading, we have Mary coming to the Temple after she has been in some level of seclusion for 40 days to go through a ritual purification. It is also a time when the family is called upon to perform a ritual of redemption as it was the Jewish understanding that every first-born child belonged to the Lord.
Now we are asked to pause for just a moment and realize that here is something very profound going on. Mary and Joseph were doing what every devout Jewish family did. We know through the Scriptures of the great faith of Mary and Joseph. It is no doubt why they were chosen for God knew that they would faithfully take care of this sacred child in this way.
But in the eye of everyone else, there were just an ordinary family coming to the temple. They did not stand out in unique way; in fact as they entered the Temple, they were probably forced to stand in a line that makes waiting at the BMV seem like nothing. Mary and Joseph presented two turtle doves for the redemption sacrifice. Normally a lamb would have been required, but if the family could not afford one, turtledoves were acceptable. This tells us the Mary and Joseph were poor, lower working class. Think about that for a moment.
If we look upon all the encounters of Christmas, how and to whom did Jesus choose to reveal himself. He chose a lowly stable to be born. He revealed his coming first to lowly shepherds. He chose ordinary parents.
Given the hardships of life, it is tempting for us to think that that God does not care about us in our everyday lives or we might ask how can we expect Jesus to meet my needs, but that is just the point, Jesus does understand and he does come to meet us in our needs because he came as a fully human child. As we hear in our reading from Hebrews, he came to be fully one of us so that he might more fully involve himself with us. Jesus is able to hear us and understand our needs because he became part of us. He came in the most humble of ways to embrace our human nature.
When Jesus was brought to the Temple there was no fanfare or celebration except for his immediate family. Nobody was ready for their Messiah to be born. Herod was caught off guard. The rich and powerful didn’t know it happened. The ruling powers in the world from Rome to Asia had no clue. Even the religious elites in this temple, did not see anything significant about this baby He was just one more baby coming through, a simple child born to poor parents.
It seemed that nobody was ready for the coming of the Messiah, nobody except a few devout souls. The Magi from the east were ready. The shepherds were made ready by the angels. In Jerusalem there were a handful of folks, who studied the Scriptures and the prophecies and they met and prayed and lived lives of Godliness. Among them was a man named Simeon and a woman named Anna. Two unrelated, common, ordinary people who would otherwise not be notable in history, but because of their great faith, they leap onto the pages of Scripture and become central figures in the grand story of Jesus birth and infancy. We do not known much about Simeon, some think he may have been a priest or Jewish scholar, but there is nothing to support that he is more than a man just and devout. There is some indication that he was older given the ease at which he is ready to die, but we do not even have evidence of that. We do know that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel that is to say the he was waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Now the Holy Spirit would come selectively upon some individuals during the Old Testament period, and did so for Simeon and revealed to him that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. Notice if your will, that God’s plan does not follow what we would normally expect. It is not the rich or powerful or the learned that get the “inside information”. It was poor, faithful old Simeon. Who does God look for? Who does he use? The faithful. You cannot control where you end up or how you are promoted, but you can chose to be faithful to God.
I am sure that he waited for years. If he shared the Spirit’s assurance, the religious people probably thought of him as eccentric and yet he still believed. Every day he scans the babies, and I can imagine him asking the Lord, “Is this the one?” and every day hear the Lord say, “No. that is not the one” and finally on this day, he sees that humble family walk in with their baby and he asks the Lord once more, is this the one and God answers, yes indeed, this is the very child. Nothing marked Mary and Joseph as the parents of the Messiah Nothing marked this baby in that way. He did not even wearing his golden halo. Yet this child was the Son of God, the Hope of Israel, and the perfect sacrifice for Sin.
As Simeon holds the child, he speaks forth a prophecy, a declaration of what God would accomplish through this child. First he says that his eyes have seen Salvation. Salvation not as a thing or a religious term. Salvation is a person, that is the person who a that very moment was being held in his arms, the little baby Jesus, who grew to be a Man and who would take on the burden of all of our sins.
Simeon said that Jesus would be a light for the Jews, but not just the Jews, he would be a light for the whole world. He would complete the work for which the Jewish people were called and that was to be God’s light to the unbelieving nations. Jesus did not come for a select group of people. Jesus came for all who would believe. Simeon’s words were to the weary couple, an affirmation of their mission. Joseph and Mary did not just celebrate the Christmas miracle once a year, they lived it their entire lives. Simeon’s message did not just encourage, but also warned that Jesus and his message, would be for the rising and the falling of many; that his life and message would divide people. As we look upon the life of Jesus and its effect you will see that while their were many who believed in Him, there were many more who rejected Jesus as the Christ. Simeon was not the only one awaiting the Messiah.
There was also a woman there named Anna . She was a prophetess, that is to say, she declared the word of the Lord. Such individual are gifted by God to interpret the word of God sometimes as it affects the future and sometimes clarifying what God has already said. She was a widow and at least age 84 years old. If you wanted to choose the most insignificant type of person to proclaim the birth of the Son of God, you would need go no further than Anna. She was a woman and women were not highly regarded in those days. She was a widow, and widows were often marginalized. She was from the tribe of Asher, basically a foreigner in Israel.
Yet she became the world’s first evangelist. In Verse 38, it says that she proclaimed or preached the news of the Messiah to all those looking for the redemption of Israel. Looking at the example of Anna, we can see the many faithful women who have held the church together by their faithfulness.
Simeon came to Jesus for comfort. Comfort for the nation of Israel and comfort for his own soul. Anna came tor forgiveness, forgiveness for the nation of Israel and personal forgiveness. These two individuals in their meeting with the Lord can teach us some valuable lessons. First, that God comes to us in simple and human ways. Showing no preference for the mighty or the lowly and that God works through human beings more often than not. The Spirit often choosing to use persons without title or position. Second, that Salvation is not some concept or idea rather Salvation comes to us in the very person of Jesus Christ. Third, that to fully encounter God in our daily lives, we need to be faithful even when being faithful seems foolish to the world or seems not to be bearing fruit for God’s ways are not our ways. Look forward to your many opportunities in life to encounter the Lord that he might present you to the Father.
In the name of God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.