Wedding of Sebastian and Carlein

There are lots of things that make a marriage work. Some of them you will already know, some of them you may learn today, and many of them you will learn in the months and years to come.

But, as I don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t see into the future, we will have to make do with what today can teach about long and happy marriages.

Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Colossians suggests some of the qualities you are to wear if your marriage is to be long and most importantly, happy. He says, ‘clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity’.

Love, the unifying factor, which makes everything perfect.

Part of what we are doing today, is praying for Sebastian and Carlein’s love. The love they have for each other, the love they have for God, and the love God has for them. Because we heard at the beginning of the service, that God is love, and those who live in love, lives in God and God lives in them. A simple line, until you start to think about it further.

God is love, and if he didn’t love us, we wouldn’t be able to love others.

God is love, and it’s love like God’s that we try to embody because his is a love that is perfect and eternal and will pass the test of time.

Sebastian and Carlein, we pray for you today, that you will grow in the love that you share, and that your love may be perfect like God’s love for you. And in the times when your love is tested, you will remember the words of St Paul, and you will find that your love is the kind described in our first reading from Captain Correlli’s Mandolin,

“Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and, when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two”.

All age – Blessed Virgin Mary

Have any of you ever been asked to do something, or go somewhere, but you really REALLY didn’t want to? (Take answers)

Clean your room, do the washing up, go to visit someone you didn’t like, have to go see family rather than play out with your friends, do your tax return, fill out paperwork, had to give up meeting friends to do work?

What do you do? What do you do when you really don’t want to do something? (Take answers)

You start making excuses

I’m too busy, I can’t, I don’t know how to, but they’re much cleverer, faster, better than me, they should do it!

We all do this from time to time, especially with the small stuff in life.

But, sometimes we’re asked to do something huge! Has anyone been asked to do anything huge and important? (Take answers)

Well, I have someone with me who was asked to do something very, VERY important. Can anyone remember our gospel reading, or guess at who I might have here who was asked to do something VERY important?

(Uncover statue)


Mary was given a very important task, what was Mary asked to do?

Be the Mother of Jesus.

This was HUGE. And would have been very difficult for her and others to understand and accept.

She wasn’t married.

She lived in the wrong side of town.

She was poor.

And she could have come up with LOADS of excuses for NOT being the Mother to Jesus.

I can’t, I’m planning my wedding.

I can’t, what would people think of me?

I can’t, what do I tell my parents?

I can’t, what do I tell Joseph? He’ll think I’ve been seeing someone else.

I can’t, I’m too poor to look after a baby.

I can’t, I’m too young to be a mother.

I can’t, I’m not important enough for God to be bothered with me!

But did she say any of these? (Take answers)

No. After she had spoken to the angel, she is so excited she goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is also expecting a baby. And she said something amazing. She said something so wonderful, that we repeat it every day in the cathedral. And in every cathedral, and in every church it is sung, and said and prayed.

And its known as the ‘Magnificat’ which is the first word of Mary’s praise in Latin.

It’s become for us, a song of joy, and has been set to music more times than I can count.

Because this girl who must have thought that she couldn’t, God did not say ‘she is just a girl’. God took Mary seriously, trusted her and put her to work. And when she believed she could do God’s work, it was the most joyful thing she had ever known. And so she said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour’  and she talks about what God has and will do for his people.

“I praise the Lord with all my heart.

    I am very happy because God is my Savior.

I am not important,

    but he has shown his care for me, his lowly servant.

From now until the end of time,

    people will remember how much God blessed me.

Yes, the Powerful One has done great things for me.

    His name is very holy.

He always gives mercy

    to those who worship him.

He reached out his arm and showed his power.

    He scattered those who are proud and think great things about themselves.

He brought down rulers from their thrones

    and raised up the humble people.

He filled the hungry with good things,

    but he sent the rich away with nothing.

God has helped Israel—the people he chose to serve him.

    He did not forget his promise to give us his mercy.

He has done what he promised to our ancestors,

    to Abraham and his children forever.”

Mary shows us what is possible when we say Yes. When we say Yes to God, wonderful things can happen. Even world changing things. And he doesn’t just use the clever or the important. He can use all of us.

So next time you’re asked to do something, think, am I going to make an excuse, or should I joyfully say yes, because there is the potential in all things for God to do his wonderful work.

Today’s gospel (as well as being the longest gospel I’ve ever had to sing) is one of the most famous of Jesus’ parables. It has been used time and time again and reinterpreted for different genres of expression, Kipling wrote a poem about it. Scott Joplin turned it into a ballet. Britten and Debussy set it to music. Rembrandt painted it.

It is so well known and loved by us that I’m sure I hardly need to say anything at all…….but I will all the same.

Because when a story becomes well loved, we can stop seeing the details.

One of the things I love about this parable is the dynamic between the characters, how they interact with each other and how we can interact with them.

In all good stories there are different types of characters, we have the hero, a role we’re familiar with in stories, then there is the protagonist around whom the story revolves, (sometimes these are the same person, but not always) and then there is the anti hero, generally my favorite character, because they are the ones who are flawed, who creates disruptions and conflicts, in the story and in your own feelings, they’re often the characters you like but shouldn’t. And of course there are support characters who help the story move along and the extras.

So, who is who in our parable?

Lets get the easy ones out of the way first, we have the servants and the pig farmer who are support and extras.

So then we have the father and his two sons. And now things become a little more tricky because who is placed in each role depends on how you read it.

It could be the younger son coming to his senses, seeing the light, and returning home.

Or, it could be the older son being shown that bitterness against his brother is no way to live, and that everything that the father owns is his anyway so he too should rejoice.

Or it could be the father, after searching for his child, giving the response of complete joy and forgiveness at his younger sons return.

What do you think?

You may change your mind when you consider the parables that have gone before because Jesus tells two other parables to the Pharisees at this time. We’re told that the Jesus is talking to the Pharisees and the scribes and they unhappy at Jesus’ friendships with sinners, they grumble when they come close to hear Jesus. So Jesus tells them a series of stories to get them understanding why he spends time with them.

I give thanks the lectionary compilers didn’t include these other two parables this morning. They are the lost sheep and the lost coin.

All lost things will be found, and in these other parables it is made clear that the shepherd who found his sheep and the woman who found her coin are the heroes of those, so, the father who found his son must be the hero.

So now we have our hero identified, we can put the others in their place. We have the protagonist around whom the story revolves as the younger Son, who goes away, blows everything, and comes crawling back.

And then my favorite, the anti-hero, the older son, who puts the twist into the story at the very end.

Because if this story was just about sinners repenting and coming back to the father, the story could end when the younger son returns home.

But Jesus goes on to tell us about the reaction of the older Son, who is resentful and bitter towards both the Father and his brother.

“Listen, all these years I have slaved for you and never once disobeyed any orders of yours, yet you never gave me anything.

But, for this son of yours, when he comes back after wasting your property gets the fattened calf and a party to go with it”.

The older son feels hard done by, deserving of reward for his years of faithful service but going without. But he is blind with jealousy and misses the fact completely that he already has everything in his possession, everything that the father has is already his. His wealth and property and love are already in his possession, but he just can’t see it.


Jesus doesn’t tell stories for our enjoyment, so the question is, where are you in this parable?

Are you a lost child, feeling unworthy, too sinful for the love and forgiveness of the father? Are you painfully making your way back, searching for the right path to lead you back?

Are you a slave to faithful work, but without the joy of the reward? Or are you full of jealousy for those around you who seem to be given better gifts?

Where is your relationship with the Father? Are you on speaking terms? Are you shouting or scared to talk?

This reading is important because it makes us question, our sinful actions and need for repentance, and also about the attitude we practice our faith with.

This is a calling, in the middle of Lent, for some further self assessment, and perseverance for the journey so that we can be the children that return confident, and with joy for each other too.



Sermon Epiphany

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all. I certainly hope your seasonal plans went a little better than mine, which were delayed and then cut short by the recent storms. Getting to and from my parents’ home in Anglesey was a scary journey, with winds and flood and closed roads.

All of this came to mind when I was thinking about what to preach on because if you read the Christmas story, the theme of journeys feature quite strongly.

Indeed throughout the Scriptures we see that God’s people are always called to be on the move and this applies especially to the people in the story of our Lord’s birth who are called to travel in the most difficult of circumstance, more difficult I might add then Storm Frank.

During the variety of nativity plays of the season, we saw Marys and Josephs and Donkeys marching up and down the aisles making the journey to Bethlehem seem like nothing at all. But which of us would dream of undertaking a 100 mile journey when one of you is so heavily pregnant & with no better means of transport than a donkey? Especially with no accommodation pre-booked at journey’s end?

Our crib under the nave altar may look quite cosy under its warm spotlight, but those who have visited Bethlehem will know of the steep stone cut steps and the narrow opening to the cave which is believed to be the birthplace of Our Lord. We shouldn’t let our carols mask the stark reality of Mary & Joseph’s desperation in bringing their special child to birth in a damp, dirty hole in the ground.

And in today’s gospel reading, and in our celebrations today, we have another long and dangerous journey coming to its conclusion as the wise men have travelled following the guiding of a star to worship the new born King and to offer their gifts, gifts so unusual and inappropriate for a baby- reveal their deep understanding of the significance of the child they seek.

It’s a wonderful story that opens up so many possibilities but is tantalising in its lack of detail, which is perhaps why it has been so embellished by artistic imaginations over the passing years.

Such as TS Eliot’s wonderful poem “The journey of the Magi” with its opening lines

“A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of year for a journey

And such a long journey

The ways deep, the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.”


The poem speaks of the Magi’s temptation to turn back, of their regret at swopping their creature comforts- “The summer palaces on slopes, and the silken girls bringing sherbet”- for the stark deprivations of the journey.

“At the end we preferred to travel all night, sleeping in snatches,

with the voices singing in our ears that this as all folly”

If the journey itself wasn’t bad enough, it was made worse by their visit to Herod. “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising & have come to worship him”.

We may question their title as wise men at this stage, is it ever wise to ask a monarch with the murderous paranoia of Herod, ‘where is the child, who is not your own, whose reign will eclipse yours?’

And at journey’s end they are left questioning “were we led all that way for birth or death?”

The Magi’s inadvertent alerting of Herod to the Messiah’s birth leads directly to the Massacre of the Innocents and causes the Holy Family to set out on yet another journey into the unknown, to flee Herod’s violence and live as refugees in Egypt until Herod’s death.

There are so many questions and issues around the Magi that we can barely scratch the surface of what those long ago travellers have to teach us.

But one of them is the message that God is always leading us forwards, often to places and situations where we need to grip our courage and our faith close to us. God is constantly calling us forward to embrace new challenges & new adventures of faith and leading us ever closer to his kingdom.

This goes for the church as well as us as individuals.

As Jesus says later in Matthews gospel, we are to ‘Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness’ to look for Gods Kingdom and all these things will be given to you as well because God will guide you. So our job is to travel with him, and be on the lookout for the next direction to go.

And we can be certain that just as he was present to guide the Holy Family to safety and to lead the Magi to the Christ child, so he will guide and protect us in our journey through life.

So may the courage and obedience of Joseph and Mary in undertaking the task of parenting the child who was the long-awaited Messiah, and may the courage and perseverance of the Wise Men in Journeying so far to seek the child born King of the Jews, inspire and encourage us as we begin this New Year to follow wherever God may lead

Sermon – St Luke the Evangelist

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, cure the sick who are there, and say to them “The kingdom of God has come near to you.”
Today, the church celebrates the feast day of St Luke, gospel writer, doctor and patron saint to those in the medical professions. So when he wrote those lines from Jesus, ‘cure the sick, and say to them “The kingdom of God has come near to you” I’m sure he saw no problems.
To me, half of that command seems a lot easier than the other.
Richard, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you’
Kirsty, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you’
Everyone, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near you’
That’s half the work done, surely?
So that just leaves me with, cure the sick.
Being a doctor himself, for St Luke, curing the sick was a common occurrence, heck, without it he’d be out of a job.
But as far as I’m aware, I do not possess any special gifts of healing. It would be quite cool if I did. I could walk around, laying on hands, perform some miracles. Regrettably though, I’ve not been able to speak to someone in a wheelchair and convince them to stand up and dance around.
But this is the command that Jesus gives to the 70 odd as he sends them out to the villages and towns ahead of him. He doesn’t say, if you have the gifts, cure the sick. No, no, no. Jesus says ‘cure the sick, and say to them, “The Kingdom of God has come near”’. So there must be more to this.
For many, Luke’s gospel is the cream of the crop when it comes to the gospel writers. He is a great story teller for one. Theological discourse is all well and good, but it’s the good story, told well that we remember and recall most vividly.
And partly due to his skills in storytelling, Luke gives us a gospel that can directly challenge us, our culture and society today.
And that is because, he deals in everyday life.
The gospel he recounts to us, deal with human frailty, and family life. He speaks to the core of our engagement with the world. He brings to life, the holiness of our everyday lives.
Chapter 10 of Luke’s gospel makes up his longest musings on the nature of mission and ministry, and becomes one of the foundational blocks for the churches mission for centuries to come.
Cure the sick, and say to them “The Kingdom of God has come near”
Go and act, go physically, practically and help them, and then tell them to word of God.
Action & Word; the mission of the church.
Neither fully bring people to God when they stand alone.
How helpful is it really, to tell the family struggling with mounting debts, or the recently bereaved, or the homeless person in need of a hot meal that the Kingdom of God is at hand? Simply telling them doesn’t do very much.
And likewise the other way around, acts are lovely and helpful, but if the recipient doesn’t know that you work for God, how will they ever know where to direct their praise?
Action and word go hand in hand.
Cure the sick, and say to them “The Kingdom of God has come near”

Without special, specific, gifts for physical healing, we need to find another way that this command works.
But the one thing I do know, is that all of us in this world, in varying degrees, and at particular times in our lives, are sick. We are all sick, and we are all in need of healing.
And our illnesses come in a wide myriad of different forms. From coughs and colds, to illness’ that debilitate us.

Loneliness and isolation, even when surrounded by hundreds. Depression. Despair.

The inability to switch off, even in times of holiday and supposed rest.

Separation, physically, emotionally, spiritually.

That feeling that sits in the pit of your stomach when you’ve done wrong to another, and that feeling that injures when another has wronged you.
Our illnesses can take more forms then we can count.
And Christ has come to heal every one of them, and restore us to his image again.
A man fell into a pit and couldn’t get himself out.
A subjective person came along and said, “I feel for you down there.”
An objective person came along and said, “It’s logical that someone would fall down there.”
A Pharisee said, “Only bad people fall into a pit.”
A mathematician calculated how he fell into the pit.
A news reporter wanted an exclusive story on his pit.
A government official asked if he was paying taxes on the pit.
A self-pitying person said, “You haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen my pit.”
An optimist said, “Things could be worse.”
A pessimist said, “Things will get worse.”
Jesus, seeing the man, took him by the hand, lifted him out of the pit and said go on your way!
Action and word is the work of this church. And if we are truly the body of Christ in this world, then this is our work.
We all fall in pits from time to time. What counts is what we do to help get each other out.
And for any of you who feel in the pit, after this service there is a time of anointing and prayers for healing in the shrine.
Jesus said, ‘cure the sick, and say to them ‘the kingdom of God has come near.’ Yes Lord. Amen.

Sermon Trinity 12

Readings: Joshua 24.1-2a, 14-18 & John 6. 56-69

We’ve heard a lot over this summer about Jesus being the bread of life. With the exception of last week’s welcome break where we celebrated the feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we’ve been talking about bread for almost a month. Since the 26th July as we’ve slowly, but surely worked our way through John chapter 6.

So by now, I expect you are all experts on Jesus being the bread of life, the living bread, the bread which came down from heaven, and what Jesus meant when he was teaching his disciples. And if that is the case, I’d be happy to arrange for the Dean to give you a little quiz later.

But if you’re not a bread of life expert, if you’re still unsure, and uncertain what Jesus was actually getting at, then don’t worry because you’re in good company. We hear today that even some of Jesus’ followers are still baffled at what Jesus had been trying to teach them. We hear:

‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it’


Many of His disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’


Our society puts a huge amount of value on the ability to choose. From a very young age, our lives are filled with a myriad of choices to make. What to wear, what to eat, read, watch, listen to, study, work for, believe, live out in our lives.

We spend our energy trying to make for ourselves the ‘perfect life’, making more and more money, being thinner and fitter, more attractive, more fashionable. And buying more and more things that we feel like we ‘need’. For many these are the new gods they serve in their lives. We have a hunger within us, but little we do seems to satisfy for very long. We are still living less then fully alive.

We have great choices to make, but if you’re anything like me, you tend to put off the big decisions for the eternal tomorrow.

Realising it, or not, we share a lot with the people of Israel whom Joshua is addressing.

He has gathered together all the tribes of Israel and is telling them of the choice that is set before them. But, like we do, they have an amnesia when it comes to what is takes to build a good life. They have forgotten the goodness of God, and all the signs and wonders He has shown them and their ancestors, and the promises, the covenant God has made for their future.

Joshua is urging the people to stick with God, but he realises that this isn’t a desirable choice for all. He says, ‘now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve’.

This is the God who brought our fathers out of slavery in Egypt, and who has done great signs among us. But you choose… who will you serve?

Jesus asks those gathered in the synagogue the same, who will you serve?

It is easy to keep our faith and belief in the good times. But what about when things get difficult? What do we do, when we come across something we don’t understand, or don’t accept, what do we do when we have a hunger to fill?

‘Are you going to leave too?’

What happens when life gets difficult, or questions become too much. What happens when the things we try to do to make our lives full, fail and we stay hungry?

Where do we go when we reach that question, ‘what am I doing with my life?’

Jesus said ‘Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live, because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven.’

Christ is the food we need for the hungers we feel. And we are in need of a regular, steady diet of this holy food.

When we choose to follow Christ, and partake in the life of His church, when we share in the body and blood of Christ he lives in us, and our lives are changed. When we choose Christ, we take a step closer to living His life, a life of peace, and love, of charity and compassion, of forgiveness and change, we will live our lives by seeing the world through the love that God has for us.

So what god are you going to serve?

Joshua’s congregation choose God, because they have tasted the life that God offers and have remembered his promises.

Jesus’ disciples choose to continue following Him, because they have tasted the life that God offers, and believe in the new covenant Jesus offers.

And now we have the choice to make. To choose the gods of this world, and perpetual hunger, or to choose Christ, to eat his flesh and drink his blood in communion and to share fully in his life.

Children’s Sermon 1 Kings 19. 4-8 & John 6. 35, 41-51

How many of you have been on a really long journey?
Where did you go?
Whenever we go on a long journey, we have to think about all the things we need to pack. What type of things should we take with us? (money, food, water, clothes, toys)

Maybe Elijah should have had some of you with him (or not, depending on answers) when he went on his long journey to Horeb. Elijah was a prophet, he was called to give God’s word to his people at a time when they had turned their backs on God, so he wasn’t always very popular.
And one day he found himself having to leave quite quickly.
He’d walked for a day, before sitting down under a tree and giving up.
He wasn’t in a very good mood and started telling God that he’d had enough. He didn’t want to walk any further.
And after he’d ranted at God. He fell asleep.
But God wasn’t going to leave him like that. God sent an angel to wake him up, ‘Get up and eat’ and to bring him some nice fresh bread and a jug of water. So he got up and ate and drank, and then went back to sleep.
So God sent a second angel, with more food and water, ‘Get up and eat’. So he got up a second time, ate and drank.
Elijah found he was strong enough to carry on with his journey, thanks to God providing him with everything he needed to keep him strong for his long journey.
And today we hear that Jesus does the same for us. Can any of you remember what Jesus said?
‘I am the bread of life’
How does Jesus show himself as bread to us in this service???
The Eucharist is the way Jesus shows us that he is ‘the bread of life that came down from heaven, whoever eats this bread will have eternal life’.
Every time we eat we are reminded of Jesus’ promise.
Every time we eat we are reminded that we are never alone, no matter how big or long our journey is.
Every time we eat we are reminded that God loves and cares for us.
Jesus promises us today that he is the bread we need, not just to keep us going for a journey like Elijah’s, but to keep us going in our journey through our whole lives, forever. Jesus is the food we need for the true life that God has for us.

The Alban Pilgrimage Children’s Talk 2015

The children’s talk went something like this……..

The Chinese emperor seeking a new Prime Minister, challenged all of the children to bring in the greatest power in the world.  Some brought weapons.  Others said that the beautiful have t he power to get whatever they want and spent the year making themselves as beautiful as possible.  The brainy children pointed to the power of technology bringing examples of important Chinese inventions.  And, of course one group saw money as the path to greatest power.

After thinking long and hard, one child brought a seed.  When the emperor asked her why, she explained that when it is planted a seed produces a wonderful plant which produces food for now and more seeds for future plants.  It contains life which is the strongest power in the universe.  Of course she became the new Prime Minister. (The Greatest Power, by Demi)

Jesus tells us today about how we should live our lives. He says if we pay too much attention to the things of the world, then we’ll miss out on life.

What type of things might we pay too much time on which then makes us miss out on other things? (Let the kids answer)

TV, computers, music, food, sweets, comics, games.

Jesus says, ‘those who give themselves to the things I tell them about will have a great life, and will have eternal life’.

What things does Jesus teach us about? (Let the kids answer)

Love, peace, justice, giving, selflessness, caring, etc

These are the things that are important in life, these are the things we have to work towards doing each and every day to have a full and happy life.

Alban gave us a great example in how he lived his life. He thought about others first, and protected Amphibalus the priest when the soldiers came looking for him. It was a dangerous thing to do, and Alban knew that, but it didn’t stop him.

The soldiers gave him the chance to save his own life by promising to follow the Roman gods, but he wouldn’t and he told everyone clearly that he believed in the one true God who made all of heaven and earth.

Alban stood for truth and bravery, he was selfless and caring. And that is why we celebrate him today. St Albans Abbey was built in his memory so that others could worship the one true God and be reminded of his example, and so that we continue to try and live better lives, so we can have the life that Jesus promises us. DSC03585DSC03589

We also had bubble prayers 🙂

Wedding Sermon Joe Wyatt & Maggie Little

Psalm 100 & Philippians 4. 4-9

Today is deemed one of the most romantic days of the year. Up and down the country and around the world, symbols of love are being exchanged. Some will do it in small gestures, chocolates, or flowers maybe, some will do it in secret. For others it will be a huge occasion, and I’m not sure if you can get a larger gesture of love then what Joe and Maggie are doing today, to marry, and declare their love for each other in front of their family and friends.
One thing we can be sure of is that neither of you have any excuse for forgetting your anniversary!!!
To be loved, I believe, is the deepest of our human desires, and to give love, is one of the greatest of human joys. The pursuit of love has been well documented down the ages and appears in all of our greatest works of art and literature. And it is good and right that we have a day to celebrate our love.
The legend of St Valentine himself is a story of love conquering. Valentine was a priest who lived during the Roman era. Emperor Claudius II had prohibited marriage, declaring that it was better for men to become soldiers in his army, and that’s what he expected them to do. However Valentine disagreed and continued to marry people in secret. Valentine acted against the authorities to ensure that people love could still be declared and couples could still make vows.
It didn’t take long after his death for Valentine’s story to catch the imaginations of people, and the church declared that St Valentine’s day would become a celebration.
It is good, and right that we should celebrate love, wherever we find it. And I hope that your celebrations Joe and Maggie will not be reserved to just one day. Because we are told in our readings that we are to rejoice; we are to rejoice and make joyful sounds wherever we see something that is true and honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable and excellent. And we pray today that your marriage will be full of these things, so that every day you are together will be a celebration and an occasion of deep joy.
This is a day of celebration, of love shared, exchanged and declared in front of God and in front of your family and friends and I’m sure they will all do exactly what the readings ask, they will rejoice with you.

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.