This is my sermon for last Sunday (31 January) that I should have give at Peter and Mary Tavy, but they have now closed!
Sermon for Candlemas 31 January 2021 Year B Epiphany 4 Presentation
Malachi 3v1-5 Psalm 24v 7-10 Hebrews 2v 14-18 Luke 2v22-40
Let us pray
Even from before the time of King David the Jewish people had been looking forward to the coming of a ‘Messiah’ figure, a prophet like Moses to lead them out of bondage, and to fulfil the promise to be a light to the nations. And then it happened, just as the prophet Malachi had said, but not as most of the people were expecting, one who was to deliver them from the oppression of the Romans. No, Messiah suddenly came into the Lord’s Temple as a babe, the one who was to purify and refine through His suffering upon a Roman cross.
Simeon and Anna represent those who had down through the centuries held fast to the hope of a Messiah who would suddenly appear in the Temple. And Simeon had been given God’s promise that he was not to die till he should see that promise fulfilled, and in responding to the prompting of the Holy Spirit he entered the Temple at the very moment the Holy family arrived with Jesus.
I wonder, would you have placed in the arms of a complete stranger your precious baby as Mary did when meeting the old Simeon? Clearly this too was a prompting from the Holy Spirit in Mary, and the response was a revelation from God to Simeon enabling him to declare the grace and mercy that God was to provide to all humankind through his gift of baby Jesus. Simeon broke into praise and thanks to God in the beautiful words of the ‘Nunc Dimittis’.
Simeon, after his wait of many years, could at last ‘depart in peace’ for he had now seen the one who was to provide ‘God’s salvation’; a salvation not just for the Jewish nation who had been awaiting the Messiah, but a salvation for the peoples of all nations who would put their faith and trust in this babe.
Jesus was indeed to be a light to the Gentiles, a light that was to make known the mystery that Saint Paul speaks of that had been hidden for generations; a mystery that God’s salvation was to be for all peoples as well as for the glory of God’s people Israel. There we may have a controversial issue, which we shall not touch on here, but to say that not only did Jesus fulfil all the Old Testament prophecies concerning his birth, but there are still many more prophecies still to be fulfilled both those relating to the coming return of Jesus, and prophecies relating to the nation of Israel which we see being fulfilled in our time.
Simeon also declares to Mary a hint of her son’s future death in the words, ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too’.
I guess that Mary did not understand what those words meant at that time as she rejoiced in the joy of having just fulfilled God’s purpose for her declared by the angel Gabriel at the annunciation of Jesus birth. Emmanuel, God was now with us in her baby, but when she looked back after the dark afternoon of Calvary, all must have started to fall into place.
After Simeon handed the precious babe back to Mary we see the faithful Anna coming onto the scene, she was also directed by the same Holy Spirit. Anna was 84, and had probably been married around the age of 13 to 14, as was the custom in her society during the second Temple period. Her life had not been easy, only married for 7 years and then living as a widow for over 60 years. We read that Anna had spent her lifetime in the worship and praise of God in the Temple. The phrase implying that she spent her time ‘night and day’ in the Temple needs some comment for the Temple doors were shut at night apart for the time around ‘Yom Kippur’, the day of atonement. So was Jesus presented in the Temple around the time of that special day? Jesus was the true high priest who was going to atone for our sin once and for all?
Anna is a lesson for all of us as disciples of our Lord and Master. Our lives like hers should be filled with praise and worship to God, and our lips should be speaking of the redemption that Jesus still brings to this world, a world still held in its bondage to sin and death, until freedom comes through the liberating massage of the gospel.
After their time in the Temple the Holy family returned to their home in Bethlehem, and remained there until after the visit of the Magi, the wise men, some 15 months later, that time which we remember during the Epiphany. The holy family then had to flee to Egypt to escape King Herod, and the tradition of the Egyptian Coptic Church is that they remained in Egypt for some two to four years before making their move back to Joseph’s home in Nazareth. I don’t know about you but I would love to have some of the details of Jesus early home and family life. There are many stories dating from the second century relating to this time, but most of them are far to fanciful.
However, we are told in the gospels that Jesus became strong and was filled with wisdom, and we have evidence for this in the later gospel story when Jesus was twelve years old and we read of him debating with the scribes in the Temple.
Jesus also found favour in his Father’s sight, a favour that was to remain with him throughout his life as he sought to do the ‘will of him who sent me.’
That is again a lesson for us to who seek to follow our master who said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments”. We are called to do the will of Jesus who has called us, and then sends us as his ambassadors to our world.
Through Jesus obedience to God’s will, and through his death on Calvary, Jesus overcame the old order of sin and death. The writer to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus came that he might ‘destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil’.
Remember that, because of our faith, you and I are described as the descendents of Abraham, and we are thereby set free from the fear of death. Our faith and trust in Jesus make us brothers and sisters with our Lord, truly an amazing promise and hope of things to come. It is so important to grasp that it is through Jesus death and resurrection, and through our faith and trust in Him, that we are now God’s adopted children.
And that faith gives to us the promise of hope as we enter another new year, a hope that so many long and need to hear. It is the promise of sharing in the eternal life of Jesus, and in the kingdom that God has prepared for those who love him. It is a promise that with all the saints we shall be partakers of God’s new creation, a creation where ‘sorrow and sighing will have passed away’. Now if that hope does not set our hearts on fire I do not know what will.
So as we gather round the table of our risen Lord once again this morning, we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made of his body and his blood in order to bring us into fellowship with the one true and holy God, to give us that promised share in his eternal life. May we resolve this new year that through God’s grace, and the power of his indwelling Holy Spirit, we may live out our lives in a way that finds favour in God’s sight.
Let us pray: The shorter Collect for the 4th Sunday of the Epiphany,
God of heaven,
you send the gospel to the ends of the earth and your messengers to every nation:
send your Holy Spirit to transform us by the good news of everlasting life that we now have in Jesus Christ our Lord and Master. Amen