Sermon – Candlemas 2007

We think of time in a different way to the way that the Jewish people thought of it. For them, as sure as night follows day, you can be sure that if you have a big religious festival, then forty days later, you will have another one.

And so, here we are, just about 40 days since Christmas, the greatest of Nights, when we celebrated the coming of the Saviour, 40 days on, after the revelation to the Three strange Magi, we reach the story of the presentation in the Temple.

And, so we reach the end of the Christmas cycle, and in just a few days we will start preparing for something altogether different.

Well, I say altogether different, but there is a moment in the gospel story this morning that takes us directly from one cycle to another. It is a moment which always gives me a shiver down the spine. It is the words of Simeon to Mary, – “a sword will pierce your heart”.

A sword will pierce your heart. In that moment, we get just a glimpse that the loveliness of Christmas cannot last, and a glimpse of some of the things that Mary was yet to see.

However, I jump ahead. We will think about Mary soon, what about these two older worshippers – Simeon and Anna. What was their story? What do they have to tell us?

What was it that made Anna come rushing up. What was it that made Simeon and Anna notice this one child in the middle of the crowd? What was it that made Simeon sing his song?

Well, we have to remember as we try to answer these questions that Simeon and Anna had been there for years, praying and getting themselves ready. Ready for the Kingdom to come.They were waiting, watching and looking for something to happen.

They waited with open eyes. Eyes searching the crowded temple, eyes, though old still looking for a greater revelation of God’s love.

And what did they see? Well, they saw a baby. Just a baby. An ordinary baby.

Yet, the readiness that Anna and Simeon came with that day, helped them to see that this was something special.

They saw that the king of heaven had been born into an ordinary family who could barely afford the right sacrifice.

They saw because they were looking. They saw it because they were the ones with open eyes.

Remember the heart of Simeon’s song – “My eyes have seen the salvation which you have made ready” My eyes have seen… They say that seeing is believing, and for these two elderly believers, it was true. They saw through open, expectant hearts.

And, it really is no different for us. If we look, we will surely find him. God is still born in the ordinary and lives with the poor. Our calling is to recognise the face of Christ in the unlikely, the lost and the poor. And even more surprisingly in one another.

If we keep our eyes open we will still find God there. The glory of God still lives in the ordinary.

So, they had open eyes.

What else did they have?

Well, they had open arms. Simeon especially had open arms, for he took the child in his arms and blessed God.

In the East, this feast that we celebrate together is not called the Presentation, nor Candlemas, it has a name which is simple and in a way more profound. It is called “The Meeting”, or “The Encounter”.

So much of our thinking in the church at the moment is about welcome – especially welcoming those whom we have never seen before. We are looking, not just to meet, but to encounter.

We still need to act like Simeon – waiting, hoping and praying and then welcoming with open arms. If you want to meet with Christ, one of the surest ways of doing so is to keep your arms wide open ready to embrace a world which is hurting and looking for love.

So, we need to keep our eyes open to look for our saviour, and we need to keep our arms open, ready to offer love to the world. What else does this story tell us?

Well, it tells us to keep our hearts open too. For Simeon and Anna were open to an unusual sort of Saviour and a strange sort of God.

For this was a God, so Simeon sang, who had made his salvation open to everyone.

Beware anyone offering you Salvation that is merely personal. The love of God is wider than the human mind can span. The salvation that is on offer can barely be defined in words, which lead Simeon to burst into his song, the song we know as the Nunc Dimittis.

We need to keep our hearts open, like Simeon to the idea that God has come to everyone, not just those we like, or to those who believe the same things that we do, but to everyone.

So, open eyes to keep looking for the Lord. Open arms to embrace him in others, and hearts open to finding the salvation of God in unlikely places. Not a bad set of things for these two to present to us.

But what about Mary, let us come back to here for a moment, before I finish. What about Mary.

Remember the prophecy of Simeon was not all light, despite the candles that we burn today – it had a darker side as well. Remember what he said to Mary…

“A sword will pierce your heart”

In my mind, I look at her in the temple and wonder what she is thinking. What had she made of the strange birth, What had she made of the strange visitors? We cannot know, yet she stands there in the temple and has to face the prophecy – a sword will pierce your heart.

Is is starting to sink in yet, Mary?

Are you starting to face the fullness of the horror that you will have to face?

What are you thinking Mary? Are you like me? Are you thinking that life is hard enough? Are you thinking that the gospel should free us from this sort of pain? Do you stand there in the Temple with a shiver running up and down your spine.

The gospel, the good news is born amid questions like this. Christ is born in our attempt to answer. The Saviour is born in the middle of a world that is muddled. A world which waits for eyes open to glory, hands open to the needy, hearts open to love.


  1. Kenny says

    Good stuff again Kelvin! Can I pinch some of this for my magazine?

  2. kelvin says

    I’m always happy to be quoted elsewhere, so long as things are attributed and the blog url is quoted.

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