Sermon for Candlemas
Sermon by The Reverend Charles Royden 1 February 2009
We celebrate Candlemas on the Sunday closest to February 2
and that of course is today. It is a time of light and encouragement and
with the weather forecast at the moment we might need it.
Having said that I have seen and read a great deal of very discouraging stuff lately, have you? My shares are not worth the paper they are written on. The church has written to me to tell me that my pension is not going to be worth having so I will have to work until I am older than Simeon and Anna. My endowment mortgage has lost so much value that I will never be able to live in my own house, even if I did think about retiring. And so it goes on!
I am sure that on several occasions over the past few months I have turned on the radio and heard them tell me 'today is the most depressing day of the year.' Are they just making this stuff up or are we getting worse and worse days? I would guess that it is not the most depressing day of the year, - it just feels like the most depressing day of the year.'
Well the good news is that winter is half way over! We are at candlemas, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Groundhog day as they say. If it is sunny tomorrow we are all doomed– in for more bad weather, if it overcast then by some perverse twist of fate we we are out of the proverbial weather woods.
Spiritually there is also good news as we come to candlemas. We have this beautiful story of the Aged Simeon and the aged Anna in the temple.
The background to the passage from Luke today is seen in the Book of Leviticus Chapter 12:1. This taught that
On the eight day after the birth of a boy, he was to be circumcised
Then the woman was to wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. Here is the reading from Leviticus 12:1 if you find it helpful
The LORD said to Moses, "Say to the Israelites: 'A woman who becomes pregnant and gives birth to a son will be ceremonially unclean for seven days, just as she is unclean during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred or go to the sanctuary until the days of her purification are over. If she gives birth to a daughter, for two weeks the woman will be unclean, as during her period. Then she must wait sixty-six days to be purified from her bleeding.
"'When the days of her purification for a son or daughter are over, she is to bring to the priest at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting a year-old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering. He shall offer them before the LORD to make atonement for her, and then she will be ceremonially clean from her flow of blood.
"'These are the regulations for the woman who gives birth to a boy or a girl. If she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. In this way the priest will make atonement for her, and she will be clean.'"
It is worth noting that Mary and Joseph offer the poor sacrifice. This was a credit crunch time for Mary and Joseph too. Jesus does not grow up in a rich family. It is official they were poor. Their sacrifice was all they could afford.
I wonder how many of you have been keeping up with the Peter Owen Jones, 'Around the World in 80 faiths?' I am enjoying it enormously. Peter is one of those people who can join in with other faiths as he goes around. I am afraid I would just not be able to be quite so involved in the way that he does, he is really giving of himself and shares with the people in an honest and open way. But one of the things which Peter find difficult is the whole sacrifice thing. It becomes apparent just how intrinsic sacrifice is to so many religions still today. So many people believe that the way to God's heart is to kill things.
Now of course this was once the way that things were in our faith. We need to be reminded that Mary and Joseph thought God wanted two little birds to be killed as an offering to God and to make atonement for sin so that God’s appetite for vengeance was satisfied.
The really good news is that the passage from Hebrews today tells us that it is all over. The life of Jesus is God's way of telling us that he does not want the death of anything or anybody. The only death which matters to us now is the death of Jesus, and that was God's way of showing us his love and reassuring us that there is nothing which we can do which will make him love us less.
At Wednesday Holy Communion this week we were looking at the passage from Hebrews where we are told that Jesus sat down. His work was finished. Jesus work was done, once and for all. That phrase Once and for All, really does some up the sacrifice of Jesus, his death was a one time event and it was for all people.
But I want us to think today about Simeon and Anna. These were really old people. These were people who had rheumatism and arthritis and all the aches and pains that we have, without the medication. These were old people who knew how difficult it was being old. Poor old Anna was also a widow and had been for a long time. So they have much to teach us about being old.
Now I receive contacts from lots of people of people complaining. There is a common theme to many of the complaints which I hear. People who are older tell me that things today are just not what they used to be. Once upon a time things were so much better. Now I myself have some sympathy for this line of thought because I can remember a time when my savings, my pension and my endowment mortgage were worth something. But as I listen I realise that for these people there is not just a looking back to specific times of well being. There is a general despair which has so drawn them into a harking back to some past bygone age when the roads were paved with gold, they have been so dragged backwards that they no longer have hope for the future. They have nothing to look forward to because everything back there was brilliant and everything going forward is rubbish.
Well there are lessons to be learned today for all of us and especially to anybody who is all fed up and miserable about the future. Do not allow these people to imprison you in their dungeons of despair.
Remember first of all that when this episode took place, the Romans were occupying the land as a military force. We know from the stories of Jesus that taxation was an issue, they tried to trap Jesus with the question about paying taxes to Caesar. And we know from the life of Jesus also that if you stepped out of line you could end up being punished on a cross. It was when times were like this, so much worse than anything which we experience today, that Jesus was brought by Mary and Joseph, forty days after he had been born to the temple.
Simeon and Anna, these old people greeted him. Now you would be forgiven for thinking that Mary and Joseph would find themselves hearing old Simeon and Anna moaning about how bad everything was. They could have harked back to the good old days. But they didn't.
They were both old but they didn't live in the past.
They both had lots to complain about but they were positive about the future.
Neither of them were moaners.
We are told that the Holy Spirit rested on Simeon. The Holy Spirit leads us into the future with hope, because the future is God's.
The challenge for each of us is to put our trust in God in the same complete was that Simeon and Anna did
We must like Simeon have the faith to recognise God at work in his world. have the faith to trust that God has a plan for his world
We must like Anna be able to look to the dawning of a new age.
We do not know what lies around the corner. However we do know that God has not abandoned us in the dark
The Lord is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear.