Saturday, 29 January 2011

A Candlemass sermon.


Heb 2:16-17:”For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.”

This brief encounter between Jesus and Simeon can be seen as a meeting of 2 priests: one, a priest of the historic line descended from Aaron; the other, the Great High Priest himself, whose sacrificial self-offering was to bring the light of salvation to every nation and race and not just to a small, localised collection of Semitic tribes in Palestine and their Diaspora descendents.  It is one of those moments which we, with hindsight, can define as one of the great crossroads of human history.  Here is the very genesis, the birth, of the great Christian mission that was to utterly define human history.  It was to trigger the rise and fall of many Empires – Roman Byzantine, ottoman, British, Spanish, Portuguese amongst others.  As we celebrate Candlemass, we celebrate a moment when the world changed forever.

Like any moment of change, it did not come out of the blue.  It was the result of a long process of preparation and revelation.  The History of Israel is one of the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham that his descendents would be more numerous than the grains of sand in the desert through which they had journeyed to the Promised Land.  Jesus the Christ, the child in the Temple, was and is the fulfilment of those promises.  The Light to lighten the Gentiles.  In order to truly be that light, he had to be fully, absolutely human – The Son of God, born of Mary.  He had to “become like his brothers and sisters in every respect” and experience human life in its glorious and sometimes grim entirety.  This is what Simeon prophetically alludes to in Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus is God’s salvation made ready in the sight and presence of every people.  Hence, Mary and Joseph’s journey from their home to the Temple on David’s Mount Zion.  Here, where God’s chosen people from all over the known world gathered to celebrate their special relationship with the One, True, Living God, the rites of the Law of Moses could be carried out where all could see and understand.  Only here was it possible to see through symbolic action that the Christ was for all and how terribly costly that would be. 

The rites and ceremonies Mary and Joseph brought their 1st born son to were deeply symbolic.  They involved both “Purification after Childbirth” which took place 40 days after the birth of a male child and the redeeming of the First Born.    Interestingly, Luke’s Gospel says “the time had come for THEIR purification” – Mary AND Joseph were BOTH in need of ritual purification. The full cost of that sacrifice was a lamb.  The poor, however, could offer 2 young pigeons – one of the more generous and humane provisions of the Book of Leviticus.   The redemption of the First Born simply involved a payment of 5 shekels to the priest.  The Great High Priest was here symbolically both subject to and fulfilment of the Law of Moses.  He came from the weakest and poorest section of Society. Salvation was far more generous in its scope that the High and the Mighty could ever imagine.  It was witnessed by a frail old man and an even older devout widow – not by princes and prelates.  The Good News was not to be limited by class or wealth, race or privilege.  It truly was for all.

There was also a dark undercurrent in the proceedings: Simeon’s grim prophecy.  Here, Mary the Christ Bearer heard that her heart would be pierced as with a sword.  Salvation does not come cheap.  It does not come in a Rolls Royce.  It comes through courage, pain and suffering, as well as through joy, celebration, healing and liberation.  If it’s cheap and cheerful salvation, then it’s probably the Opium of the People, rather than the Glory of the Crucified Saviour of the World.  Yes, there was a baby and doubtless some “goo goo, ga ga” noises – but from the Crib to the Cross is but a short journey.  In a sense, Candlemass is the Christian Festival which is a concise précis of the whole narrative of Holy Scripture.  The People of God the Israelites, their history and heritage through Moses and Aaron, David and the Holy City and Mount Zion; their history of triumph and exile, their hope of deliverance and salvation through a Messiah, the birth, life, death and triumph of that Messiah – all are here.  Candlemass is the Bible in a nutshell.  For us here today at this celebration of the saving works of God, our story and our hope is told in full.  The Light of the World is in the World and the salvation of the World is in process.  Let us pause now and reflect in word and in silence on this mystery which we celebrate today.  Please make yourselves comfortable and still in your pews and in a moment or two, I’ll lead us in a meditation which will conclude this sermon.


In the beginning there was darkness. And into the darkness and the chaos, 
God brought light and order. He gave two lights, one to govern the day, 
and 1 to govern the night.
The light has come and the darkness has not overcome it.”

The Creator made many creatures, and some He made in His image, those to understand Light and Truth. But they chose darkness and hid in the shadows.
Yet “The light has come and the darkness has not overcome it.”

God sent messengers to bring the light of Truth, those who brought His word to be a lamp to their feet and a light to their path.  But they chose their own way and wandered from His.
Yet…“The light has come and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Then the One who has been Light and Truth from the beginning came into the world and lived among them. But the light of His life was too bright and exposed the darkness in theirs. So they tried to extinguish the light.  But they could not do so.
The light has come and the darkness has not overcome it.”

And those who welcomed the light into their lives shone in the darkness, but many preferred the darkness to light because their deeds were evil. So they attempted to snuff out those who exposed them.
Yet…“The light has come and the darkness has not overcome it.”

And today there is darkness; there is fear, mistrust and anxiety. There is evil, corruption of the truth and a shadow over the world. And yet, just as surely as that baby was born, “The light has come and the darkness has not overcome it.”

And the darkness will never, will never, overcome it. And at the end all will stand, will stand before the Light that has been there from the beginning….May we be given grace to carry that light within us, now and always. Amen

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