Sermon for The Feast of the Presentation – 2014
‘Why do you think you are here today?’
Picture the scene, perhaps a familiar one? – it is a house not very far from here and someone shouts up the stairs – ‘You need to get out of bed, Now!!’ – ‘I don’t want to get out of bed!’ comes the reply – ‘You need to get out of bed. It’s Sunday. It’s Church’ – ‘I don’t want to go to Church’ – ‘You’ve Got to go to Church – It’s good for you!’ – ‘I don’t care!’ – And there’s a baptism this morning – ‘I’m already baptised’ – Well you’ve go to go anyway – you have no choice – ‘Why??!!” Because you’re the Vicar!!
Well that explains why I’m here 🙂 But Why do you think You are here? Because you were told you had to? Perhaps you’ve come along as part of Freya’s family for her baptism? Perhaps we’re here because we think people will miss us if we’re not – because it never occurred to us not to be, or like me, because it’s my job 🙂
Well, today is a special day in the Church’s year, an Important Festival – The Feast of the Presentation. We always call our festivals Feasts – indeed its the same word. When we celebrate, we eat! Food is at the heart of our Christian faith – so we always come to celebrate at the Lord’s table.
And The Feast of the Presentation is an important festival because if you like, it is all about coming to church, Jesus’ first visit to church! Well not quite but it gives you the idea. Our Gospel reading today finds Mary and Joseph taking Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. Jesus is only 40 days old at this point – today February 2nd is when we celebrate this – 40 days after Christmas day – you see, it all fits together 🙂
And like you and like me, Mary and Joseph have THEIR idea about why they are going to the Temple. They were devout Jews and went for the rite of Purification and dedication to God. Jesus as their first born technically belonged to God, so they in a sense went to ‘buy him back’ – to redeem him. And as they were poor they offered a gift of either a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. And there was nothing at all unusual in that – but they were in for a Surprise!!
‘The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple’
I wonder if anyone has ever thrown a surprise party for you? Last year as a church we threw one for Sarah on her 50th birthday. The idea had been around for several months – invitations had been sent out – but most important of all, we needed a cover story. She needed to think she was coming to something else. We had to get her into the church hall without her realising what was happening. She thought that she was coming to someone else’s party 🙂 – indeed to allow last minute preparations we even sent her to collect the birthday cake – her own 🙂
She thought she was coming to the church hall for one reason, but there was something very different going on! And she got a Big surprise.
When Mary and Joseph arrived at the Temple – all of a sudden They were the focus of attention – or rather their baby was.
For all THEY thought they knew what their visit to the Temple was about, something else was going on, something Much bigger than a simple religious rite. As with a surprise party, people had been getting ready for this moment for quite a while – there had been a sense of expectation . . . but not for a few weeks, or months, or even a few years. People had been waiting for this moment for Four hundred years!!
If we are familiar with the story of God’s people then we know that things have gone from bad to worse – they have been taken away from the Promised land into exile – they have returned but things are not the same, and one foreign nation after another has stamped all over their land. They are waiting, waiting, waiting for God to come to rescue them and restore to them their Life and their Land.
Can you imagine what it is to wait for Four hundred years? Of course not, this is a waiting that is not about ‘you’ or ‘you’ or ‘you’. It is the Waiting of a people. Something which in our lonely age of individusalism we cannot imagine. Our family got some wonderful news this week, one of our daughters and her husband are coming to visit us in August. It’s fair to say ‘we cannot wait’, but of course we will have to. But I wonder if we can even begin to imagine what it would be like to wait as a people? Something which our comfortable and isolated lives (and the two are closely connected) can scarce apprehend. Waiting for someone to come without knowing When they would come – for Four hundred years. A whole people, a nation waiting – the waiting passed on through the fifteen, sixteen generations. Four hundred years ago the prophet Malachi had said ‘The LORD whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple’ – But When?
Today we celebrate that day.
Mary and Joseph turn up at the Temple to go through the required rituals and suddenly two very old people come up to them. We know their names – they were called Simeon and Anna. Two old folk who symbolise the waiting of the people.
Simeon we are told is guided by the Spirit of God, to go to the Temple and seeing Mary and Joseph, he takes the baby Jesus in his arms and says the most extraordinary things. For some of us these are very familiar words – those of the Nunc Dimittis – but take a moment to think of their meaning – Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word, for my eyes have seen your salvation.
Lord, you are letting your servant depart in peace. Simeon has waited for this moment all his life – seeing this child he knows he can die at peace. Often when I am with those who are dying, there is something or someone they are waiting for. Simeon is very old – he has been waiting for God’s promise to Come to his people to be fulfilled – and now the waiting is over. His life has been all about waiting. It is as if this is the entire meaning of his life. He knows it is complete. He can depart in peace – Peace is the sign of fulfillment. He has waited – he knows that his Life’s work is Complete. Imagine the significance of saying – ‘Now I have seen this, Now I can die’
Imagine the young parents.This old man sees his Life’s work, his waiting fulfilled in their child. They need an explanation and they are given one – summed up in Prophetic Words. It is announced Who this child is.
Now when we are born, our parents have all sorts of hopes and dreams for us. We live in an immensely privileged culture, and we should not forget that. For many many children their parents might merely cling to the hope that the child will live long enough to look after them in their old age. Mary and Joseph are poor, they live in a country under the domination of a harsh Empire who thinks nothing of taking their money in taxes and killing the people almost on a whim. Their hopes for Jesus?? Yet Simeon doesn’t speak of hopes and dream, he Speaks a word of Prophecy – ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ The Life of this child will affect the lives of all with whom he comes into contact changing their lives in ways you cannot imagine – their rise, their fall – and for you Mary their will be great sorrow – a sword will pierce your own soul . . . and that wasn’t all. There was also old Anna – a widow – she had been praying in the Temple night and Day – Waiting – Waiting – And now he has come and she rushes out and told all who would listen – the one we were waiting for has come . . .
Mary and Joseph just thought that they were going to the Temple for the necessary rituals – they did not know that they were going to fulfill an Ancient promise of God. . . . and it was all to do with their Son . . .
Which brings us back to our opening question, or rather a variant of it
‘Why Are we here today?’
Mary and Joseph had Their ideas as to why they went to the Temple that day – but that wasn’t why they were their
We may have a hundred and one answers to the question – Why do you think you are here today? But like Mary and Josephs visit to the Temple, our agendas, our reasons aren’t The Reason. We like them are being caught up into the Word and Works of God in Jesus Christ.
Quite simply we are not here for ourselves or our reasons. Like Simeon and Anna, Like Mary and Joseph, we are here today for Him – For Jesus Christ. He is the focus of our Life together. The meaning of all we do – in prayer and listening to the Bible, and of course in the Holy Communion – where He comes to us in bread and wine, in flesh and blood, as he came to the Temple.
We are here for Him. As Simeon’s life is summed up in hopeful expectation of the arrival of Christ Jesus, He IS our Life.
In a few moments we will baptise Freya – when we baptise someone this is no mere symbol – we are doing no less than including them in the Life, the Death and the Resurrection of Jesus – Freya will become part with us of the Work that God is doing in Jesus Christ by becoming part of the Church. As I said in the parish magazine, yes we are welcoming Andrew as our new curate today, but FAR FAR FAR more important, we are baptising Freya. Andrew is already part of the church by baptism, and his significance amongst us is merely as a symbol, a reminder of who we all are. Freya is starting out on a new life – a Life in Jesus, With Jesus and through Jesus as a member of His Body, Here and indeed throughout the world.
We are here for Him