Sermon for Sunday 29th January 2012

Sunday Sermon for Sunday 29th January 2012

Given by Revd Jan Kearton

Candlemas stands at the midpoint of winter - it’s halfway over, we’re halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. The nights are beginning to draw out, the mornings are lighter - light is returning to our half of the world after the deepest darkness of the early winter. It’s a good time of year to be celebrating Candlemas.

The lifting of the darkness in nature is echoed by the early signs of the darkness lifting for others in the Gospel. Early in Mary’s pregnancy, John had leapt in Elizabeth’s womb as he sensed the powerful presence of God in her child. Now as Jesus is brought to the Temple, unexpected things again happen. A stranger, filled with the Holy Spirit, appears and takes Jesus in his arms. Simeon’s own darkness lifts as he becomes intensely aware of God’s presence in this child. The twin burdens of waiting and hoping fall away as Simeon receives the assurance that he’s longed for God’s ancient promise to his people is being fulfilled in his lifetime. Praise and blessing are the only possible response.

Anna too is released from the urgency of her prophetic call, from the need to hold the hope of God’s promises constantly before his people. The Messiah that she daily reminds to hope and pray for is no longer the content of prophecy, but a living presence before her. God has come to enlighten his people with his own presence and Anna’s prophecy turns from hope to praise.

A little more light dawns for Mary and Joseph too, though its effects are rather mixed. Their child will be the fulfillment of God’s promise, but for them the joy of the announcement will have consequences. Astonishment is seldom a single emotion - it’s usually a blend of several. It could be unexpected joy and thankfulness, or shock and disturbance. Astonishment usually happens when we haven’t made accurate or likely predictions. Mary and Joseph are playing catch-up.

They know now that their child is different and they’re wise enough to be troubled by that realisation. Fame, greatness, difference usually bring problems for the family and any kind of difference can be enough to rouse jealousy or revulsion. The portents for this child are mixed. Simeon’s words to Mary warn that insignificance is not this child’s path - he’ll inspire opposition, challenge people’s choices and bring people to a sharp point of decision. There’ll be no quiet life in Nazareth with a wife and children, no house around the corner from his parents. His life will be lived in the glare of national scrutiny and, in the end, his reach will be truly international. A light for the Gentiles and the disturber of Israel.

For the writer of the letter to the Hebrews, this is good news. Unless the High Priest of the people knows what it’s like to live a human life he might not understand the need for mercy. Mercy flows from the warmth and understanding of a heart that’s lived with human constraints, that knows from the inside all the difficulties of being human. Our human fears loom large - the fear of failure, the constant heavy guilt of doing wrong, the fear of the consequences of our own poor judgments and choices. Fear of our own extinction in death and of the coming of God in judgment.

Malachi questions whether anyone can endure the living presence of God, the fire of his judgment and his cleansing. Simeon knows now that he can, that this child has answered that question. The face of God in Jesus will be loving, free of the need for vengeance. Simeon can go in peace because his Saviour, Israel’s Saviour has come.

As Jesus is offered in the Temple, Simeon and Anna understand that God has changed his relationship with us for ever. In Jesus, God chooses not just to be amongst us but to be one of us. Creation is reversed - God makes himself in our image in order to make us more like him. God in Jesus lift the darkness of our human lives, shows that we are worth saving, that each of us can become a thing of beauty, a full expression of God’s creative love.

Finding God in Jesus will challenge all our human relationships. The dignity of God in other people demands our respect, our close attention and our love. The Law was given to Israel to regulate relationship within communities and to ensure the community’s relationship with God. Faith and right relationship are the keys to the Kingdom. In Jesus, God offers us a new approach. This child is the expression of God’s call to live life well, to love God and his people. Already in this child the darkness of our sin is lifting. Jesus’ life will be our pattern for a life lived well and sin will lose its grip on us. In this early dawn, Paradise, the garden where God walked with us, is opening again.

All human life meets in Jesus, and the light that he brings reverses human failing. The child whose own life is tinged with darkness is the light and the peace that Simeon depends on. The light of God’s love in Jesus reveals our lack of love and his splendour brings us all to judgment by comparison. Around the altar he both reminds us of the darkness of our destructive nature and feeds us with the light of his love. In him, darkness and light are the opposite sides of the same coin. It’s right that this celebration should be followed in a little while by Lent, that pause to review the darkness of our own lives in the light of his. As he brings to light the things we hide from ourselves, Jesus draws us closer to himself.

At this midpoint in the winter when the light is returning, it’s worth reflecting on our own lives. Where, for you, has darkness lifted for you this Christmas and Epiphany tide? Where has God been active in your life or the lives of those you love? What glimpses of paradise have you been given? What, like Simeon and Anna, should provoke our praise and thanksgiving? What darkness do you still want to offer to God in patient hope and expectation? What dawn are you waiting for in hope and prayer? What darkness in our parish life should we be hoping for light to shine on?

As we prepare to ask God to lift the darkness of others through the START course, please pray that God will bring to the light those whom he is calling. Pray that they may receive sufficient light to see the face of God in Jesus, and to see their path to him. AMEN.

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