A sermon by The Rt Rev’d Chris McLeod, Dean
Text: Luke 2: 22 – 40 – NRSV
Jesus Is Presented in the Temple
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon;[a] this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.[b] 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon[c] came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon[d] took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant[e] in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon[f] blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna[g] the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child[h] to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
- The Disturbing Call.
This evening we are celebrating ‘Candlemas’, or as it better known, ‘The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple’ or ‘The purification of Mary’. It is a special day for me, because 31 years ago I was a made a deacon here in St Peter’s, Cathedral by the administrator of the diocese, Bishop Bruce Rosier who was also my spiritual director. I was ordained with 4 others. We were in between Archbishops at the time. I am feeling somewhat nostalgic, I must admit, as I look back over those 31 years. I for one never thought I would be standing here as Dean, let alone being a Bishop, as well. What a journey it has been! What a delightful challenge it has been.
It was powerful day for Simeon and Anna, as well. They were witnessing the beginning of a life changing – indeed, a world changing – ministry – the ministry of Jesus Christ. Neither of them, I’m sure, really knew what was going to happen, but they had an inkling led by the Holy Spirt that Jesus was the one they had hoped for. Simeon says something very insightful, and it could be easily overlooked following on from the triumphant proclamation of what we now call the ‘Nunc Dimittis’. After blessing Mary, Joseph and Jesus, Simeon says to Mary: ‘“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” I suspect Mary did not expect that. The challenges and the rewards that were to come her way. The joy and the loss, and the deep-seated assurance that salvation in the name of Jesus brings.
- ‘The rise and fall of many’.
Simeon notes that Jesus will be the cause of the rise and fall of many. Who exactly he had in mind we can only guess – the Roman Empire, the religious elite, the rich or the poor? Maybe, all of them. We know that Mary rejoiced that the rich would be sent away empty, and the poor will be lifted:He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly, he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty (Luke 1: 52 – 53)
There is an uncomfortable challenge at the heart of the Gospel, and that is why I suspect many find it difficult. We don’t mind other people falling, but we are not so comfortable with the thought that our own values and beliefs might be challenged. However, this is the power of the life of Jesus. It was and is transformative. We are not meant to stay the same. We are constantly being transformed into his likeness. The Gospel does confront us and takes us deeper into who God wants us to be. There is a cliché that sums this up: ‘Jesus came to disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed’. There is a profound truth in this. The message of the life and teaching of Jesus is that it is, whether we like it or not, confronting.
- Not with nostalgia, but in hope.
What also makes an impression upon me in this story is the reactions of the main characters – Simeon, Anna, and Mary. Simeon and Anna are now well aged, but they see what’s coming and they embrace it. Things were going to be different from now on. The future was in the hands of God. Mary too would also be challenged – her soul would be pierced. She would be greatly challenged by the life and ministry of her son. At times wanting him to be quiet, and other times following him as a disciple.
The times we live in are challenging for the church. When I look back 31 years ago, the church was still quite strong. There was still good attendance in many churches. All of us who were assistant curates at the time had full time positions. Many didn’t see that things would change as quickly as it seemed to. Some did. It is easy to look back with nostalgia to the good old days. If only we could capture something of what we had then. However, the world has changed. Organized religion is not popular now. People like to make up their own minds about things. We have choices. The consumer society we live enables us to pick and choose. We like it that way; I like it that way.
I think about Simeon and Anna. They didn’t look back, but they looked forward. Their beliefs were built solidly on their tradition. I don’t mean they rejected everything that went before them, but they were able to embrace the present with their eye on the future built upon the strength of their tradition. God was leading them into a new future. They didn’t really know what that looked like, I suspect. They didn’t really know what challenges lay before them. They were prepared to let God take the lead.
Is that how we feel about things now. Are we like Simeon, Anna, or Mary? Are we prepared to be challenged in our personal life and in our lives together? Can we see God doing new things in our midst? Are we prepared to move forward and follow?
I still place my faith and hope in the power of the Gospel. I still place my faith and hope in Jesus. He will lead us, and we will follow. Amen.