Sunday, 31 January 2016

Candlemass 2016 St James' Barton under Needwood

Benefice Service Barton under Needwood
St James Candlemass 2016 (31st Jan)

Ezekiel 43.27-44.4 Luke 2.22-40

Today we celebrate the end of the Christmass season as we anticipate the Feast of Candlemass sometimes called The Presentation of Christ in the Temple,which 
is this coming Tuesday, 2nd February.

This is the occasion when according to Luke, Mary and Joseph traveled to the temple in Jerusalem with the infant Jesus. Mary was to undergo the rite of purification and Jesus was to be offered to the Lord as the first male child according to the Law of Moses.

Should you be interested you will find the instructions in Leviticus chapter 12.

What is interesting to note is that Joseph and Mary brought an offering of a pair of turtledoves.

Much is made of Jesus’ humble birth.  Remembering that of course most people at this time were either rich or poor and living at subsistence level.

Two turtledoves or pair of pigeons was the acceptable offering if you could not afford a lamb.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I 
have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5.17

Now as we consider this story get out of your heads any pictures of a parish church and a baptismal family coming in.

You can even put to one side a cathedral.

The Temple was a huge, bustling busy place.

Devout Jews who longed for God’s Shekinah Glory to inhabit the Temple would have studied passages of Scripture like the one we heard from Ezekiel, alongside 
other prophets, principally Isaiah.  

Despite how it all appears, no matter who rules or who doesn’t rule, there will come a Day of Righteousness when all the Faithful Covenant Keepers will be vindicated and God will rule over all, and other kingdoms, nations will pay homage to God and recognise the Israelite's as God chosen instruments of bringing light to the world.

It is worth spending some time considering this, because it wasn’t a half-hearted hope, it was in the very blood stream, woven into the warp and weft of every Jew, male, female boy or girl.

So just how big was the temple?

Well try the size of six football pitches with walls to the height of a twenty stories with some stones weighing in at 400 tons.

The Temple was massive and the temple was busy, very busy with thousands of people coming and going - and not forgetting all the sacrificial animals being slaughtered.

It was the very heartbeat of the Nation.

So hold that picture in your head and imagine Joseph, Mary, and Jesus turning up to follow through the proscribed law.

Luke’s Gospel says that there was a man named Simeon who was in Jerusalem. We do not know if he was a visitor or a resident. However, we know that he was righteous, devout, and looking forward to the consolation of Israel.  That great and wonderful time I mentioned earlier.

The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

(Note the work of the Holy Spirit who was very active well before the Day of Pentecost.)

This man Simeon – well God appears to have a way of picking people for no particular reason, just as he picked out Mary to bear the Christ child or Zechariah and Elizabeth to bear Jesus’ cousin, John.

Btw – there is no indication given as to the age of Simeon, although it is often suggested he was an old man, but we cannot say one way or the other.

Notice that it says that the Holy Spirit guided him.  Remember all I have said about the size of the Temple and the busyness of the place.

That is why we need to get out of our heads a picture of a parish church and a baptismal party.

He was guided by the Holy Spirit.

Can you imagine his heart quickening, his feet skipping, his mouth dry and eyes scanning through the crowds, trying to see, trying to listen and trying to follow the Holy Spirit promptings.

Who would this be, what would he look like, a warrior perhaps, a teacher, one of the ascetics from the Qumran Community.

A baby boy only forty days old!

Lord, you have to be messing with me…

In obedience, Simeon goes forward, takes the child in his arms, and sings a most wonderful song that echoes down the years. ‘The Song of Simeon’ used regularly at Evensong and at the time of death.

It is my fervent prayer that when it comes to the time for me to shed off my own mortal frame that I can sing this most wonderful song.  ‘Lord, let your servant now depart in peace – because I have seen the glory of your presence, I have seen your Kingdom come upon earth, I have seen people healed and restored, and in your most gracious mercy you have allowed me to participate in this most wonderful Gospel work.

In Simeon’s proclamation, he grasps the height, the depth, and the full measure of God’s forever intentions and purposes. The Messiah would bring salvation and that Messiah would come from God's chosen people.

God’s special and particular people of whom St Paul was to say, ‘I would be accursed if they be but saved.’  God’s people who would be glorified if they lived as God intended, as a light to the Gentiles.  Yet within his words of prophecy, there are those dark undertones, ‘the rising and falling of many, and a sword piercing Mary’s heart.’ Did she think back upon that on the day she watched as her son was lifted up against a darkening sky?  

Let me ask you this.

How attuned are you to the Holy Spirit?

Do we merely go about our daily business, shopping, working, picking the kids up, paying the bills, going to the cinema or out for a meal or a coffee, watching TV – do we simply do this and forget to be listening out for the prompting of the Holy Spirit?

We are Christ’s Ambassadors wherever we go and whatever we do – 24/7.

Recently, on our cruise holiday the waiter asked if we were okay if a single man joined us at the table during the evening meal.

Never having met him before we quickly discovered he had lived in Stafford, where we now live. He now lives in Cornwall, where we lived for ten years and have family, He worked as an Animal Health Officer and we both knew a mutual friend who works for the NFU in Staffordshire.

He was recently retired and has no family at all. He was lonely and felt life had no real sense of purpose – and whilst he respected people of faith it was not for him. He joined us regularly every night after that and we saw him begin to relax and engage with other people as well.

Before going away, I had invited some people from my home church to pray for my wife, daughter and myself as we prepared to travel. We prayed for safety and a good time and should the opportunity arise that we might be of some particular service to God in the people we met.

We need to foster the holy habit of being attentive and obedient to the prompting of the Spirit wherever we go and whatever we do- even on holiday!

At the recent launch of a Churches Together initiative called ‘Love Stafford we were encouraged to cast blessings over any churches we pass or over our neighbourhood and especially over the houses where we know the people who live there.

So we have Simeon, attentive, attuned, on the lookout and guided by the Holy Spirit.

Then we have Anna, whom we do know was of a great age. We also know she was very devout and fervent.

The last time I visited my Spiritual Companion we got to talking about those older people from whom the light of Christ shines brightly. Those men and woman who seem to ooze Jesus out of every pore and every fibre of their beings.

It is my fervent prayer that I become like that, like Anna here in this story. Soaked in prayer and worship and attentive to God’s prompting.

Might I suggest that if Simeon speaks to us of attentiveness and then action, then Anna speaks to us about waiting, praying, pondering? The ‘going into your secret place’ and being in prayer and quiet meditation before God.

Next Tuesday, the 2nd is Candlemass and the Tuesday following is Shrove Tuesday.

Therefore, we are moving swiftly on from the Crib to the Cross, which is always only a matter of time. To try to have one without the other is utter nonsense.

As we begin our Lenten journey, could we seek to learn from Simeon and Anna?

Could we begin to be more attuned and attentive as we go about our daily business?

Perhaps asking, ‘is there someone Lord you would like me to speak to, or help, or even to offer a smile and a kind word, or to pray for them quietly and to cast a blessing over them.

Then could we set time aside to sit in God’s presence.  Maybe leaving the Church open with some simple prayer guides.

Simeon and Anna knew their Scriptures and had read the prophecies of promise. Could we endeavour to gather around God’s word? Seeking to discern how we can be a light to the Gentiles.

Using that word not in any pejorative sense, but simply to denote those who do not yet know the saving love and grace of Jesus. 

Mary, Joseph along with Simeon and Anna, all were faithful in their own time and used of God in His great purpose to bring about the redemption of the cosmos – but perhaps in way they least expected.

What about you and what about me in this year 2016 – how faithful are we going to be?

Let us pray…

O Saviour Christ, in whose way of love lays the secret of all life,
and the hope of all people, we pray for quiet courage to match this hour.
We did not choose to be born or to live in such an age;
but let its problems challenge us, its discoveries exhilarate us,
its injustices anger us, it possibilities inspire us, and its vigour renew us.
Pour out upon us a fresh indwelling of the Holy Spirit;
make us bold and courageous in sharing faith
in both word and deed for your Kingdom’s sake we ask. Amen

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