Candlemas 2018 – Rev Mary Bowden
May have been wondering about the crib….. we’ve kept it until today because today is the very end of Christmas….. Real purists…. visited new AD last week – Christmas tree still up. So….
Any lingering cards or baubles lurking on the mantlepiece or dresser – perhaps a nativity scene you have kept at home, as I’ve kept mine. Today is the day to nerve yourself to put them away.
We began the Christmas season celebrating the incarnation – today is a good day to think again about what it means – for Jesus, for us. God became human. Jesus became one of us. St Paul tells us in Philippians, in an affirmation of faith we have been using throughout Christmas and Epiphany, that though he was divine he did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but… being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Today in the story of the presentation in the temple we remember a particular aspect of Jesus’ humanity, a particular moment of his story: his membership of the Jewish nation at this particular time in its history….,: we see how the baby, human, Jesus was dedicated in the temple like any other boy of his time and place…. although he had been dedicated by his divinity from before time began.
It’s hard – impossible – for us to understand what that meant, what it cost God to become human. I quoted at the midnight service from the American bestseller, The Shack. A book I have some issues with, but some excellent accessible theology. In particular there is this image of what it meant for Jesus to become human. This is God the Father speaking on behalf of the Trinity to the main human character.
When we … spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human. We also chose to embrace all the limitations that entailed. We have always been present in this created universe, but now we became flesh and blood. It would be like a bird, whose nature is to fly, choosing to walk and remain grounded. He doesn’t stop being the bird, but it does alter his experience of life significantly. Although by nature he is fully God, Jesus is fully human and lives as such. While never losing the innate ability to fly, he chooses moment by moment to remain grounded. That is why his name is Immanuel, God with us – or God with you to be more precise.
Think that’s a really helpful image…. A bird choosing not to fly – doing iso for us… in order to be on the ground amongst us….. But like all images it breaks down if we think too hard about it ……just as the parables do if we try to pin every aspect of each story to a truth about God. And that’s because we are human, God is beyond us – and no story, no picture, can fully convey the nature, the mystery of God..
But, because flesh and blood can exist only within the confines of time and place, there must be a story and it’s in the story of Jesus’ life, that we get to see what being a willingly grounded bird, “becoming like his brothers and sisters in every respect” as it says in Hebrews, was like in practice, in reality: what actually happened to him, what impact it had on the people he met, how his life was the culmination of the story of the Jewish people, and how it has touched us in our turn.
Let’s look at the picture Luke gives us … Joseph, Mary and their son arriving at the temple… an unobtrusive, ordinary family, perhaps a little ashamed because they can’t afford a lamb for the priest to sacrifice on their behalf but have to make do with doves or pigeons. Just a normal scene at the temple. But then there’s a flurry of activity in the huge temple court, and suddenly this little family is the centre of attention as their story collides with the story of Simeon, a man known for being righteous and devout and who is waiting for “the consolation of Israel” – the Messiah –Simeon is brought to the spot by the HS, just as the shepherds before him were led to the manger by angels, he finds a baby just as they did …. And knows him for “the salvation that God had prepared” – and taking him in his arms he says the prayer of thanks and release that we know as the ND. And we’re told that M and J “marvelled at what was said about him” A wonderful moment, and another highpoint on the rollercoaster journey that Mary and Joseph have been on for about a year by now….
my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
But Simeon goes on, … speaking now about how this wonderful prophecy will come about, what it will cost… how “this child” will be a challenge and an inspiration to many… and, as Paul later tells us, a stumbling block…. And then he prophesies to Mary alone – and a spear shall pierce your own heart also….. the shadow of loss, the shadow of the cross itself, falls on this joyous little scene…..
And what – who – is at its centre…silent, as far as we know… apparently passive…. The object of all the attention but doing and saying nothing……? (may collide with our experience of babies….away in a manger…..) Doing and saying nothing and yet recognised by Simeon and then by Anna through the power of the Spirit…. Baby Jesus, appearing as that for the last time in Scripture. Think back – and forward – to what will be said about this child, this man. Remember what Paul says in Philippians though he was divine he humbled himself… remember the image of the bird willingly flightless. And think of the words of John… hold them against the picture of the baby…. here is mystery far beyond us.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
This story of Jesus’ presentation in the temple is another stage in the spreading of the light…the story we tell in Epiphany…. the light that shines from Jesus, that has come into the world by his own choice and design. To compare the choices that face us in daily life, or the bigger decisions about the direction of our lives, with that timeless decision to come into our world, seems presumptuous, almost insulting to the sacrifice Jesus made, and yet he is our example. We must remember as we go about our business not only the lessons we learn from his adult life and from his teaching but also this supreme lesson of love and care, from his example, that he chose to share our flesh and blood, to become like us, his brothers and sisters in every respect, and to be “tested by what he suffered” so that he would be able to help us as we are tested. He chose to share the light. Let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to come now, inspire us to recognise Jesus in the people and situations we meet, as it inspired Simeon and Anna, and to lead us into a deeper understanding of how to follow Jesus’ example of humility and service, as we seek to live in his light, which is the light of all people. Amen