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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon


29th January 2006

Fr David Shepherd

Candlemas

Clergy are famously, if somewhat dismissively, said to ‘hatch, match and dispatch’, which means we are concerned with baptisms, marriages and funerals, with what sociologists call rites of passage. This is not surprising since Christianity is concerned with the whole of life from cradle to grave and beyond.

We see that concern and breadth of vision in today’s Candlemas Gospel, St. Luke’s account of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple. Candlemas is a bittersweet festival. It looks forward to Lent and Passiontide and back to Christmas, to cross and crib if you like. It invites us to reflect deeply on the person of Jesus and to also consider our own lives, our beginning and our end and all that lies in between.

  1. Firstly there is the child. Like all babies Jesus has to be cared for, he is brought up to Jerusalem and presented in the temple by Mary and Joseph. We are reminded of the sanctity of life, its great potential and of its origins in God. Life is his gift to us; life is to be reverenced in others. Like all parents Mary and Joseph would have been concerned about the future, what would become of Jesus, how would he turn out? Simeon and Anna foresaw his future. Through him God would bring about his purposes for Israel and for all humanity. When he had returned to Nazareth Jesus grew in strength, wisdom and divine favour. As Christians we are to reverence new life as God’s gift, to be concerned with the nurture of the young and with what they might become.
  2. Secondly there are the parents. Like many parents Mary and Joseph find themselves caught between the young and the old, as represented by Jesus and Simeon and Anna. In bringing Jesus up to the Temple they were acknowledging his origin in God and also handing back to God what was already his, just as we do when we bring our children to baptism. Bringing up children is costly not just financially but in terms of commitment and time. It can be restrictive and it can hurt as I suspect the parents of many a teenager can attest. For Mary came the pain of standing by as her son died on the Cross; her soul pierced by the sword of sorrow. Crib and cross, joy and sorrow, themes of Candlemas and of all human lives.
  3. Thirdly there are the old, Simeon and Anna. Our faith tells us that God values the elderly. Life is as sacred at its close as at its beginning. The Lord has given and the Lord takes away. What has been in a person’s life is special, memory precious. Simeon and Anna bear powerful witness to that prayerful waiting on the Lord. When others might well have thought that they should pack up and give, literally and spirituality, Simeon and Anna stood their ground, sustained by that deep faith that keeps searching and longing for the things of God. They were rewarded; they saw salvation as they held the baby Jesus in their arms. They could depart in peace. (The Nunc Dimittis) Past, present and future came together in that moment as it always does when we pray.

Candlemas invites us to consider human life from its beginning to its close with all its joys and sorrows. It invites us to look back (to the crib) to our beginnings and to look forward to our endings (the cross), it invites us to see salvation in the person of Jesus.

I leave you with fascinating conundrum and a possible solution. Generations of schoolboys, knowing that Christianity believes in the Resurrection of the body, have wondered how old we will be in heaven. Will babies spend eternity in an infant state and will the very old and decrepit be forced to spend eternity with their infirmities? The answer is to be found in medieval paintings as Bishop Christopher told us when he came the other year. If you look at the naked, embodied souls newly risen from the dead you will see that they all look about thirty. Not a bad age to be, still good looking with just that slight edge of maturity.

But there is a reason for heaven being populated by the seemingly thirty-something; it is because Jesus died on the cross aged about thirty. As a perfect human, like us save without sin, it is fitting that we should be like him in eternity.

Candlemas reminds us of the infinite value of human life as God given. It invites us to consider own lives from a Christ like perspective. Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow, stands at the centre of everything. It is from that perspective that we see salvation, hold it in our arms.

Amen

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