Introduction and Call to Worship
Today is the Feast of the Presentation, when Jesus was taken to the Temple to become fully integrated into his community, according to the Law. His divine identity was confirmed by the prophet-witnesses and his acceptance gave him the starting point for his future ministry, so this is our celebration too!
First Reading Malachi 3:1-5
All who serve the people must first be one of them. From there the work of God proceeds, witnessing to the covenant, chastising evildoers and addressing the needs of the poor.
Second Reading Hebrews 2:14-end.
The fullness of our humanity is often best lived out as part of a community, where our skills can be witnessed and used most creatively. So, it was with Jesus, fully human as well as divine.
Gospel Luke 2:22-40
Jesus’ identity is acknowledged by two of the worthiest members of the community of the Temple. Youth and age meet and the promise of God to the witnesses is fulfilled.
HOMILY “‘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.” (Luke 2:34-35)
This week we have seen coverage on the news and in the papers of Holocaust Memorial Day, an annual reminder of the evil that can consume, when people literally hate others because of their faith, sexuality, disability, appearance and much more besides. What happened to so many innocent, wonderful, diverse and creative people is beyond our imagining and perhaps acceptance...the gas chambers that speak of unthinkable wickedness. "Hatred consumes you, but forgiveness sets you free." – words of an Auschwitz survivor reflecting upon the loss of her sister and family in the death camp. She lived because she was old enough to work. The rest of the family perished in gas chambers along with a wide assortment of people considered to be less worthy of life. But what has changed? Today, good, God-fearing people are written off because of things that shouldn’t matter, because diversity is a strength. Yet bigotry, hatred and distrust of difference is still very much with us and it can seem as if we haven’t yet learnt from the mistakes of the past.
Friends, Jesus was a Jew, of Jewish parents, with Joseph’s heritage recorded as far back as great King David of Israel. Like you and I, our Lord was part of a religion-based community of worshippers; a faith-tradition with rules and ordinances, ethics and teachings, some of which (although not all) Jesus brought into His Church, our community, his body today. Indeed, we share so much of our DNA with Judaism; they are our spiritual and religious cousins, whatever we may think of modern-day Israel, the peace process or the most up to date plan devised largely by the US administration.
Today’s Gospel, on the surface filled with glorious light, hope and spiritual depth is also a reminder of personal pain. I can only marvel at God’s great love for us as revealed in Jesus coming among us – the Christ-child, presented in the Temple. We read of people honouring God, recognising the need for tradition, membership of a community and Jesus’ place within all of them. But also, the tragedy that is human suffering, rejection and persecution – the shadow of the cross in the background with the words of Simeon to Mary: “‘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.” (Luke 2:34-35) Mary was a young woman, but she knew her responsibilities as a member of the faith community of her day, as did Joseph. The presentation of the Christ-Child in the Temple that we celebrate today with candles, the end of our Christmas feast, marks Mary (and Joseph’s) purification as parents. In that temple, 40 days after Jesus was born, presentation conferred status upon the child as a member of the faith community. From now on, Jesus would be included; well, for now at least. It is no accident that Simeon and Anna, in their great age, declare our Lord’s identity, for deep within they have a spiritual longing for the promised Messiah. To this they bring experience from the past, present and future; their very lives fulfilled in this meeting of great holiness. The Temple community meant the world to them, just as St Mary’s means the world to many of us. And they both served faithfully and in anticipation of God’s Kingdom being revealed in their midst.
Jesus was no ordinary child; Mary and Joseph no everyday visitors! The Christ-child is destined for great things and the spiritual earthing within Simeon electrifies in the presence of the long-awaited Messiah. Yet, Simeon’s message to Mary looks to what is to come; Jesus will be rejected, He will suffer, and Mary will suffer too, as any mother does at the loss of their child. The candles around our Church today speak of light, warmth and hope, but also of Easter. We, as Christians believe that Jesus is the light to enlighten the nations, the same light that flashed across the world in creation, the same light that transforms lives. I believe that light is utterly inclusive of all, but sadly not everyone would agree. In the face of human division, we can take comfort from today’s Gospel, that God knows what it feels like to experience judgement, exclusion, rejection, hatred and even violence.
For me Holocaust Remembrance Day is so very important, that we all are reminded again that judging others in this way is deeply flawed, whatever our religious or social conviction, upbringing or background. We, as humanity must never ever be allowed to forget the evil that human beings can inflict upon each other. It is almost unbearable to think of the suffering of so many in concentration camps. Of course, the horrors of the Second World War are just one example; regrettably there are many moments that stain human history. No single nation or people are to blame, we should all take responsibility for sin. Our challenge today in 21st Century Brittain, in this week when we have left the democratic institutions of Europe and seek new relationships with our friends in the European Union and beyond, is to ensure that we always strive to include not divide, to love and not hate, to work for justice not falsely condemn and imprison. We as a Nation may be heading off in our own direction, but we must never lose sight of what we have learnt to date. As the newly minted 50p coins states: peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations.
Christ is the light that overcomes all darkness, yet human beings tried to prevent God’s light from shining and that is the shame of the cross. We as people of faith in Thorpe today need to learn from the horrors of the past and strive for inclusivity and justice in everything we do, say and are, because Jesus has demonstrated that very path of love for us, the light to enlighten our pilgrimage of faith, and all nations. Amen.
1. The Presentation of Jesus provides us with a guide to all the advantages of being brought up within a faith – but also reminds us of the persecution of Christ.
2. Jesus was born, brought up and died a practising Jew. He had a starting point from which to proceed in his ministry and the foundation for our Christian faith.
3. Are we truly inclusive? If we are to learn from human mistakes and failures we must learn to live for God’s kingdom values.