Candlemas Sermon Year B 2015

Luke 2. 22-40
“Then Simeon blessed them and said , “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel ….and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
I wonder how many visitors to our cathedral over the past few weeks have been puzzled by the continued presence of our Christmas crib? I hope it hasn’t upset too many who subscribe to the old superstition about the consequences of letting Christmas decorations remain after twelfth night! (I’ve come across one or two of them in a previous parish) But our crib isn’t a left-over decoration-

Far from it! It is a reminder that throughout January we have been reflecting upon, and celebrating, the birth of Jesus. It’s been 40 days since His birth and now he is brought to the temple in our celebration named, Candlemas.
Now, light is a universal symbol. It expresses important meanings in both secular and religious life all over the world. Candles are lit for birthdays, fireworks set off for celebrations and lamps burnt to remember the departed. Hindus and Sikhs celebrate Divali as a festival of light. Jews keep Hanukah by lighting candles for the eight days of the festival.
And light has an important significance to us also. Light is not just as a sign of joy or a practical way of expressing hope. It is linked explicitly to the birth, life, death and resurrection of Christ and so for us is a symbol of Jesus himself.
Isaiah speaks of the Messiah as ‘a light to the Gentiles,’ Zechariah looks forward to the time when ‘the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.’
Writing of the mystery of Christ’s birth, John takes up the image: ‘The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.’
So it is hardly surprising that Simeon draws on Old Testament imagery when he recognises the child Jesus as the Messiah, speaking of him in those lovely words we know as the Nunc dimittis as “a light to lighten the gentiles and the glory of your people Israel.”
These powerful words are fulfilled in Jesus’ mission to bring healing and hope, to dispel doubt and to overcome sin and death. So it is not difficult to see how this was worked out in his own life and ministry. He brought sight to the blind, and in so doing describes himself as ‘the light of the world.’
But it is much harder for us to discern how his light continues to shine in our own world, we are overwhelmed every day in the media by images of war, oppression, famine and disease.
We need to ask, are the candles we light today merely pretty decorations, but without the power to overcome the darkness that surrounds us?
Or do they symbolize something much deeper , more powerful and more challenging?
Jesus calls us to bring light into the darkness of our world. St Paul takes up this image, ‘The Lord has commanded us saying, “I have sent you to be a light for the Gentiles, so that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.” ‘ Like the apostles, we are called not simply to gaze at his light and draw comfort from it, but to receive it in ourselves and reflect it to others.
But we must be aware that this can be a costly undertaking.
It wasn’t for nothing that Simeon give that chilling warning to Mary “And a sword will pierce your soul too.”
I wonder how often, old Simeon’s insight and warning bring a chill to Mary’s heart in the next 30 years as she watched her Son “grow and become strong, & filled with wisdom ” Like any other mother, she must have wanted to protect her son from harm when he so often confronted the powers of darkness.
So often, we too can shy away from the challenges involved in bringing his light into the darkness of our own age.
But Jesus still comes to bring the light of God’s love into the dark places of our world and he calls us to work with him, to dedicate our lives to serving him in serving the needs of his wounded world.
And that is always a challenge- for our human instinct is to protect ourselves from the inconvenience, difficulties and dangers of life, to turn a blind-eye to a society that seems to be spiralling out of control and wash our hands of those whose lives seem beyond our powers to influence or help. We turn our light away, and protect it for ourselves rather passing it onto those in true darkness.
May this feast of Candlemas remind us that embracing the light of Christ is not primarily about lighting candles;- it is about shedding light on the dark places we find and continuing the work that Christ started.
May your candles be more than a source of light, but a symbol of Christ, the light of the world, and a sign of your calling to carry that light to others.

“I Wanna Be Loved By You”, Marilyn Monroe and Marriage

I used the lines from this song in a wedding sermon last Saturday, ‘I wanna be loved by you, just you, and nobody else but you’. It symbolises the dream of every couple in love, and particularly to couples getting married. The hope that their love will be lasting, forever, that their love and get them though;

‘For better for worse,
For richer for poorer,
In sickness and in health,
To love and to cherish,
As long as we both shall live,’

To be loved is a wonderful gift that many of us often feel unworthy of, but I think to love is the better gift. To love unconditionally an even greater gift.

In each wedding I take, I try to convey that among the love shared by the couple, and the love given and received between the individuals in the congregation is a greater love, the love that Christ has for us.

The story of each couples marriage will be the story of their love, the love that they are able to show each other, and I pray for each couple that the love they have for one another will be close to Christ’s love for us.

The Body of Christ???

I don’t know if this happens to many other priests. But occasionally after preaching, I have a line or two from the sermon I preach follow me for the week afterwards. This has been on if those weeks.

Last week we heard one of Paul’s great sections from his first letter to the Corinthians, the unity and diversity in the body. “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12. I started my sermon by talking about baptism, because it had been a hot topic over the previous weeks, and there was a baptism within the benefice also, I spoke about the joy the church should feel when accepting a new member of the body of Christ “in one Spirit we were all baptised into one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

I continued by exploring what that body looked like, the body of the church was similar to our own physical bodies, they are made up of different parts, but each part of them equally necessary. And it’s true, we need all our different members if we are to be the fully functioning body of Christ.

Now, it is this next part that has been haunting me.

I’m not sure that the church (both locally or internationally) behaves as if really believe this.

Do we as a church believe that each member of church is equally as important? Because we certainly don’t behave like we do a lot of the time. Between self deprecation and judgement on others, where is that belief that we are all and important part of the one body?

“There should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other” (1Corinthians 12:25)

But do we? Do we have equal concern for each other?

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of believing and behaving as if one member is more important then the other, or one member is more useful then others. I wish I had a £1 for every time I heard someone say that they are not good enough, clever enough, enough enough to do things within the church and within their own lives. Did God not give us the gifts which make us enough? Did a god not give us what we need to be enough in is eyes?

I wish I were more like…….. they are so……………….

“Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret?” (1 Corinthians 12:29-30)

As a church, I don’t think we do behave as if each member is of equal importance to the body, there are times and places where members do claim superiority over other members. I take some comfort that the church in Corinth fell into this trap also, which is why I am grateful for Paul’s words. We know Paul’s answer to the question he poses in verses 29 and 30.

We need to work harder in accepting all, and the variety of gifts that they bring. We need to work harder in seeing people for who God has made them. We need to work harder in seeing everyone’s role in the body.

If we are to continue Christ’s mission in the world, we need to start acting a little more like his body. Together with our brothers and sisters, both close at hand and far away, we are the Body of Christ. We are called to live that identity, and to engage in the mission that comes with it….

“Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ.” 1 Corinthians 12:12.

…..not later, when we’ve got our act together, or when it’s more convenient, when our health is better or we have more time on our hands. Not later but TODAY.