Monday, 3 February 2020

Candlemas 2020 Sermon

This is the sermon I preached at the morning services at St Nicolas today.

Sermon for 2nd February - Candlemas 8am and everyone together at 10am. Luke 2:22-40, Psalm 24:1-6, Hebrews 2:14-end

Today, Candlemas, is the end of the Christmas season.

Today is the day when traditionally everyone’s nativity scene should be taken down. We follow that tradition here at St Nicolas.

Today is half-way between Christmas and Good Friday – half-way between Jesus’ birth and Jesus’ death.

Today is a pivot point – the point when we turn from cradle to cross; from birth to death.

Today in our gospel account we hear about the right of passage in a Jewish boys life - his presentation at the temple at 40 days old.  We hear that Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the rights of passage.

Today we hear Simeon celebrate Jesus and the fact that he is the light of glory for all of the world.

But today we also hear Simeon's words turning us from that celebration of light to the direction of the cross and the darkness of suffering and death, remembering that following Jesus is also about faithfulness in the face of suffering.

Of course we know that darkness will not win over the light.  We know the truth of the resurrection and that light will overcome the darkness.

It is not a coincidence that today, at Candlemas, the candles are blessed.  Our candles are marked as signs of the light of Christ in the world – we know we still have need of such signs to get us through the darkness ahead.

Signs of
 - Jesus with us
 - Jesus as the light of the world
- Jesus guiding us in the darkness

Candlemas is also half-way between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.

This is the point at which we begin to turn from the cold and dark of winter towards the promise of spring.

This is the point when the end of winter is in sight and we can look forward to spring.  Again we move from darker shorter days, to the longer, lighter days.

I have been searching for an illustration for today's sermon for the last few weeks, something more than the physical demonstration of light in the candles.

But nothing seemed quite right.
Until last night …..

God has always had a habit of giving me last minute additions or adjustments to sermons; this was a perfect one, though it didn't feel it at the time and it didn't occur to me as an illustration until this morning…..

Last night I was leaving a concert at the university at about 530pm with my dad.  It was dark and we were chatting but I was on a path I'd used trace earlier in the day.   When suddenly I crashed into a step, tipping my chair forward and nearly falling out. In fact neither my dad or I can figure out how I didn't fall out; I am happy to give God the glory for keeping me safe.

Such a crash and near disaster was a huge shock for both dad and I.  It was a reminder for us both that I am much more blind in the dark and need people to tell me about obstacles in my path.  I need people to be a light in the dark for me.

But it's not just me who sees less well in the dark, though I'm obviously more impaired by the dark than most of you.

Light is incredibly important for us as human beings; we are not able to see well in the dark, our eyes aren't adapted for low light situations.

The ability to make fire way back in the early evolution of humans was pivotal not both for heat and cooking, but for lighting the darkness of night, especially in the long nights of winter.

We are reliant on light
We need light to function through dark days and long nights
We use light to us show us the way.

In the same way we need the light of Jesus in our lives to show us the way.  We need Jesus to guide us in the dark times.  We need Jesus to shine a light into the places we're unsure about.

We are blessed to know Jesus and to know the Holy Spirit is with us every day to guide us through the times of light as dark.

When I think of this blessing we have in our lives I also feel sadness for those who don't share our faith; who don't know the amazing presence of Jesus in their lives, who can't rely on the Holy Spirit every day to guide them.  It is this that keeps me sharing the love and light of Jesus with people.

(Candie illustration at everyone together service)

When we light one candle from another the light spreads and grows.  When we share the love of Jesus, we are giving his light to them.

The more people we tell about the good news of Jesus, the more his light shines in the world

The more ways we help others in the world, the more Jesus's light shines in the world.

So, I wonder
How can we do that?
Well let's here a poem by Howard Thurman:

"When the song of the angels is silent,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart."

I do however have two very practical ways in which we can share Jesus's light this week in our immediate world.

These ideas come from two pairs of people in the story we heard today about Jesus's presentation in the temple

1. Mary and Joseph.
- They have followed God's calling on their lives, but this news about how they will experience pain as Jesus's parents must have been a hard message to hear.
- And yet they are also told Jesus will be the salvation of the world, they have such a precious son.
- what a lot of pressure.

It's hard enough being a parent without all that, I can't imagine how it must have felt.

I'm often chatting to young parents and an struck by how often they feel stressed and overwhelmed, especially as the economic situation gets harder.

 These young families need the support of older family members but they don't always have that support structure around them.

This is an area where we can share the light of Jesus, as a church or individually

- is there a young family you know who could do with a simple blessing of a kind word or an offer of a coffee?
- or perhaps you could join the PPP or Noah's ark rota?
- or invite a young family to church to share the support we have for each other as a community

2. Simeon and Anna
- Two other key people at the temple are Simeon and Anna.
- They are prophets who have been waiting for Jesus
- They are older people, very old people in their society; old people in a society which wouldn't value them.
- Simeon and Anna are key to this part of Jesus's life because they foresee his future and the impact he will have in the world

I've told you a little about Simeon's celebration and prophecy about Jesus.

Anna had waited many years in the temple, praying and worshipping.  When she saw Jesus she gave thanks to God and celebrated him.  She then told everyone about Jesus, spreading the light of him to all the people she met

The importance of Simeon and Anna, these elders in society, makes me wonder.....

Do we value our older people enough?
We should; their role in this gospel account tells us so.

As a church community we very much value our older members, I can't tell you how much I enjoy the intergenerational interaction which happens inside church

But sadly I don't think this is true generally in our society; and we all know there are many isolated and lonely older people

And so I'm asking who YOU know who you can share the light of Jesus with this week?

Who have we been meaning to call or visit?

Who could you invite to the community coffee morning on Thursday?


There is a final learning which jumped out from the gospel reading which I want to share with you today because it was new news to me. 

The fact that Simeon and Anna waited all their long lives for this momentous point highlighted to me that great things in our faith journey are yet to come.

It might feel that we are past our best or beyond being called by God in amazing ways, but Simeon and Anna are a clear sign that God is at work in us no matter what our age.

Just imagine what might be in store in your journey with Jesus.

We are lights of Jesus in the world, yesterday, today and tomorrow.

We never know when God will need us to be the source of His light to share with someone.

as you go out this week, remember that you take the light of Jesus with you to bless everyone you meet


Bible Reading:

Luke 2:22-40 (NIV)

Jesus Presented in the Temple

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”[a]), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
    you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
30 For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31     which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
    and the glory of your people Israel.”

33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four.  She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was on him.