Sermon delivered on the feast of Candlemas (transferred), Sunday, January 28, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
There is no audio podcast of today’s sermon because one has to be smarter than the recording device.
Lectionary texts: Malachi 3.1-4; Psalm 24; Hebrews 2.14-18; Luke 2.22-40.
In the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
Last Sunday, after everyone went home, and the vestry met for a short while with Bishop Jackson, I went home expecting a relaxing evening before heading back to the office early Monday morning. I went into my house, changed over into my gym shorts and t-shirt, and started to get comfortable with my family as the day wound down. This is the routine we have come to expect on most typical Sunday’s, but it turned out that this would not be that kind of day.
Shortly after changing over and plopping myself on the couch I received a message from a family member that I should come to the hospital to visit with the man Larry whom I added to our church intercessions list. While he was already not doing well he had taken a very quick turn for the worst. So I put my trousers and shirt back on, grabbed my jacket, communion kit, and oils and headed out for Riverside Hospital. My rest and relaxation had to be put on hold.
When I arrived at the hospital I was greeted by a large group of family whom I had not seen in many years. They were all spending time quietly at the bedside of Larry. His children, grandchildren, wife, cousins, and friends sat there expecting the worst to happen in very short order.
As I stood there greeting the group I heard a familiar voice from behind me in the doorway, one that I had not heard in nearly fifteen years. “Well, I know you” said the comforting voice. I turned to look and saw an old friend with whom I had attended high school. She had been given charge of caring for Larry in these his finals days. Immediately any discomfort I had felt about seeing this family member of mine was soothed as I knew the kind of person she was, and had seen her to be even more through our keeping up over social media. During a dark time there was someone present through whom holy light kept breaking forth from, enlightening the whole room. These are the kinds of faithful people we hope to encounter during these difficult moments of life.
That remarkable enough a thing that I stand here today and tell you about it, but something that was more remarkable about this day was about to happen. We’ll get to that here shortly.
In Jerusalem, about two thousand and fifteen years ago another remarkable thing happened. In keeping the law for her purification, Mary, with Joseph and Jesus, went up to the Temple forty days after the birth of Jesus to offer sacrifice to God. This was a routine event for the Hebrew women of the day. At the same time, Joseph presented Jesus there to the Lord, as every first-born son was to be designated as holy to the Lord. This, again, is a very routine thing for any Hebrew family at this time.
But what seemed to be something that was going to be very common to them, although his conception and birth was anything but common, a funny thing happened on the way into the Temple. Standing there was a man named Simeon, who had been led inside by the Holy Spirit.
By this time Simeon was a very old man. The Bible describes him as a “righteous and devout” man, who was looking forward to Israel’s consolation. He was looking forward to comfort in the midst of great discomfort and suffering. Being a devout man, and righteous, he was also no doubt a man who knew the truth of God’s promises contained in the Holy Scriptures. The Holy Spirit rested upon him, and he knew from these Scriptures and the work of the Holy Spirit in his own heart and mind that he would not leave this world until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah, the true Consolation of Israel.
Reaching forward, and taking the 40-day-old baby Jesus into his arms, this devout man of God began to praise God. The promise of God was being fulfilled right in this moment before his very eyes, and the fulfillment could be held in his very arms. This small child, the one whose blood had been shed in his circumcisions 32 days earlier and shown to be very much a human like those he came to save, and whose blood would later be shed for the salvation of all the world, was the one who had been promised. What inexplicable joy filled Simeon’s longsuffering and hopefully expectant heart as he cried out in praise and thanksgiving!
“Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised;
For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see:
A light to enlighten the nations,
And the glory of your people Israel.”
God’s promises are true, and Simeon’s hope has come. The Holy Spirit who had caused him to know these things through the Scriptures, through his prayers, and his hope, now is providing for his joy. He confesses the true nature of the child Jesus. Not only is this a baby boy of the faith, but he is the author of it. He is the salvation of all. And in knowing this now to have come to pass, Simeon bids the world farewell, knowing his days are now short. But he does so in the faith and knowledge of the Christ who has come. How comfortable the death of a man who knows Christ.
Imagine being Mary or Joseph here. Although they were no strangers to the mighty movements of God, this is still a moment of pure amazement and wonder. But Simeon goes on.
Blessing Mary and Joseph, Simeon turns his face intently toward Mary, saying to her: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
The life of Jesus, according to this devout man, this confessor of Christ, and this prophet, is to be a tumultuous one. There will be great joys and great sorrows ahead. And here the Holy Spirit by the lips of Simeon lays the groundwork for the life, ministry, and coming death of the baby whom he just held in his arms.
So, now they can get on with their business after this, right? Nope. God sends yet another, a prophetess called Anna. She too has lived far beyond her expected years. This woman, being a widow, has devoted her entire life to fasting and praying at the Temple. Lips that should have already been in the grave here continue to pour out words of praise and thanksgiving, they continue to pray in the Spirit, and in this moment are about to prophesy to others about this child Jesus, whom she also recognized for who he is.
What a completely unexpected day this little family is having. Fully thinking they were going to go and do the things appointed for them in the Law they instead find themselves in the midst of something God has been planning since the foundations of the world were laid. This is a moment of cosmic significance, as it signals the salvation of the world, the redemption of the whole creation, that is always inherent in the life and witness of the texts of the Old Testament. Jesus is written on those pages, and is an active participant already in leading his people toward their salvation, toward himself.
It is an amazing thing to see God moving in such a powerful way in the world. And nothing God does is without purpose. As the Apostle tells us, “God works all things for the good of those who love him and who are called according to his purpose.” And to do this he came in human flesh, he became one of us, with all the frailties that come with the human package. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us,” so that we might have confidence in him, sharing in flesh and blood with him as his brothers and sisters, that he can be, and is, for us that merciful and faithful high priest who serves in the presence of God the Father. He was tested, like we are tested and will be tested, and is able to help us during these times of temptation and trial. This is the child Jesus who was shown to Simeon and Anna. This is the one about whom they started telling others. He is the one we share with our neighbors so that they too might be called his brothers and sisters.
I have made many hospital visits over the last twenty years. Most of them tend to go the same way, so there is a routine nature to most of it. Last Sunday, expecting one home life routine but trading it in for what I expected to be another type of routine event I found myself in the midst of God moving yet again. Larry, who had not been a participant in the life of the Church for many years, but who had been baptized as a kid, confessed Christ. It was one of the kids who had been there to visit who shared the Gospel with him, and another senior citizen who had prayed with him at that time.
I walked into that room fully expecting it to be a terribly sad affair, and I was among those who was and is sad, but instead what I found was the presence of the Holy Spirit and the joy that he brings when he reveals Jesus for who he is, unfolding the truth of the Scriptures that the heart may understand and be transformed. There was prayer, praise, and hymn singing by the time I departed that day. Peace and comfort, testimony of God’s goodness, and the true love of Christ was so thick in there it was like being grabbed up and hugged so warmly and tightly. The Lord came into the room and revived the hearts of those who needed consolation so badly. And he did it no more than in the heart of Larry.
Larry went into that hospital one man, but now that he prepares to leave this mortal world he will be leaving it a new creation in Christ. In his own words, “I know who my savior is, and I can’t stop praising him.” Just like Simeon and Anna another will go home with praise on his lips because of that blessed child is who is the true light of the world.
May we find our hope in him that at our own end we may leave with such praise on our mouths. Thank you, God, for Israel’s consolation and ours, and for being the only one whom we can trust for our salvation. For when through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the dayspring from on high has visited us, gives light to us in our darkest times and in the shadow of death, guiding our feet into peace breaks into our hearts, we can do no other. Praise the Lord for his great and glorious love toward us.
In the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.