The Presentation of Christ
Preacher: Canon Neil Thompson, Precentor
1 February 2009, 10:30 (Candlemas)
We live in a world of change, a world of beginnings and endings.
I remember as I grew up that I was always fascinated as to how exactly it worked as to where a rain storm stopped and the sunshine would begin – and then as a student queuing for a bus in Tavistock Square in London it actually happened.
I was standing in sunshine and the people on the other side of the road were in rain and a line literally ran down the centre of the road.
I have never forgotten the experience.
Yet, this happens every day – and generally we don’t see it or even think about it.
By contrast, in the affairs of state changes and endings can take quite a bit of time: for example the transfer of power in the United States takes months: Barack Obama was elected president in November but was only inaugurated a few days ago.
It’s different for a British Prime Minister who has to move out of Number 10 within hours of an election defeat. Power changes quickly and almost brutally in our own land.
And here as celebrate Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, we are confronted by and challenged by an occasion in which we can recognise a seismic change and decisive transfer of power.
This celebration on the fortieth day of Christmas reveals to the world an end and a beginning.
In the Orthodox Church, Candlemas is known as The Meeting and perhaps that is a more helpful description of its meaning.
The Gospel passage describes how the infant Jesus is presented in the Temple at Jerusalem.
This Jewish rite of purification required by the Law of Moses to take place forty days after a male child’s birth is the occasion for a moment of recognition and discernment of eternal and everlasting significance.
Here in the little child shines the celestial light.
Here in the carpenter’s son is the Life which has no beginning and no end.
Here in Mary’s baby is the Word which creates all that is and pre-exists in the Ancient of Days, the divine Godhead.
And that is why in the Eastern Church, this profound and extraordinary religious experience was and is known as The Meeting.
And it is so easy to miss and overlook and dismiss.
The very people who recognise Jesus as the light to lighten the nations and the glory of Israel were old and powerless and seemingly insignificant.
Simeon and Anna were a part of Judaism that did not seek a political power and dominance for Israel and they were known as the Quiet in the Land.
They understood that it was in faithful prayer and watchfulness rather than military victory that God would fulfil his promises.
And here was the moment of recognition in which the Old Covenant of God made way for the New in Jesus the Messiah.
This encounter in the Temple betokens a seismic shift in the history of humanity, in which God in utter risk and gift is held in our human arms and allowed to grow to adulthood, human maturity and to share uniquely our mortality and createdness.
Simeon thanks God, blesses Jesus and warns Mary and Joseph of the cost of this change and this salvation that is breaking into human history.
This child is destined for the falling and 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.
This bestowal of love and the transfer of power in and through Jesus are like an earthquake in which familiar patterns, certainties and understanding are shattered for nations, families and individuals.
Candlemas takes us from the joys of Christmas and faces us towards Lent, Holy Week and the resurrection that lies beyond Calvary.
As the world today experiences so many uncertainties, the promise of God in Jesus is that his strength and victory lies within our ever changing and uncertain world.
And here at the Eucharist the fragility of our human lives and needs as represented in the deliverance meal of the Passover and the sacrifice of God in Jesus are made real and substantial in this moment and in this place.
This is the Meeting between eternity and the present moment, between God and his people.
And somehow in the incarnate Christ all our differences and fears are made one in the risk of a presence that shakes the world as he died and rose again.
The baby Jesus was presented in the Temple and held in Simeon’s arms.
Today he is placed in your hands and mine: we take him anew into our lives as we go from this place of gathering and meeting into the world that he has made and redeemed.
The rich and the poor, the terrors and the oppression of our world, whether it be Iraq or Gaza, Zimbabwe or Afghanistan, the homeless, the destitute or the desperate – all this anguish and inequity are in the process of being shaken and redeemed by the
love of God.
And if we have seen this light and promised our lives to Christ, we must be brave and active and faithful.
That is why God feeds us, blesses us and dismisses us.
The power and energy of the Spirit is poured out and shared amongst God’s people.
The candles that are truly lit on Candlemas day are the lights of God’s love in our hearts and minds.
The world of credit crunch and financial meltdown; the hatreds and atrocities of regimes and fanatics; the problems that beset us personally day by day, await us as bearers of Christ the Light.
Mary brought her baby Son into our fallen and bruised and battered world and he is our only hope and redemption.
She offers you and me and all people this light held in her arms and which leads us to Calvary and Easter Day.
Just as the rain really does stop and the sun shines, so fear and pain and death will end in the victory of the risen Lord.
May the prayers of Mary be our prayers as Charles Causley offers us the gift of Candlemas in a mystical poem entitled ‘Mother and Child’:
Holding in clear hands
The world’s true light
She lifts its perfect flame
Against the night.
About its pulse of fire
Earth and seas run,
Season and moon and star,
The unruly sun.
Upon the hill a scuffed
Thinness of snow,
First of green thorn, a stream
Stopped in its flow.
She keeps within her hand
The careful day
Now the wound of night
Has bled away.
Vivid upon her tongue
That she may not outlive
The life she bears.
(Mother and Child, Charles Causley)