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Simeon reflects... Sermon for Candlemas Sunday
29-January-2017
 Candlemas Sunday
Preacher: The Revd Will Newman

Malachi 3.1-5, Hebrews 2.14-end, Luke 2.22-40


What was it? What was it that made me go to the Temple that day? I get out to the Temple when I can. It’s not as easy as it used to be. All those steps really take it out of me now. When I was younger I used to bound up them, full of energy, keen to keep the law, and do the right thing. I know that when I’m in the Temple I’m close to God. It’s the place of God’s presence on earth.

 

So much is going wrong in the world. Old people always say that, don’t they? Always looking back to how things were better when we were young. Well I don’t know if things really were better; maybe we just didn’t know so much about bad things going on. Mind you, a couple of hundred years ago the prophet Malachi, the Messenger, said it all: some put their trust in sorcery and the dark arts; some are unfaithful to their marriage partners – and if they’re unfaithful in marriage, what are the chances that they’re faithful to God? Some swear falsely, making up facts that aren’t true; some pay their workers less than they should, and the workers just have to put up with it, because something is better than nothing. Some oppress widows and orphans, taking advantage of their vulnerability; some push foreigners aside, giving them no place here. So many things that the prophets, inspired by God, told our ancestors not to do – people are doing. But I suppose if Malachi said it was going on then, we haven’t really changed. It’s always been like that. Almost always.

 

What could really make things change? A new, inspirational leader? Someone who will come and sweep away all the bad old things. Someone who’s going to make the nation great again. The prophets all said that someone will come to put things right: someone favoured by God, come to make us truly God’s people. The Chosen One, they called him – our Hebrew word is ‘Messiah’.  I believe the Greek word is ‘Christ’.

 

I’m old now. I can’t say I’ve led a perfect life – who has? But I have tried. I’ve tried to do God’s will, the best way I could. They say I was ‘looking forward to the consolation of Israel.’ Aren’t we all? We all need consoling in these uncertain times. We all need comfort, and guidance, and help to get back on the right track. We all need love to console us when things have gone badly wrong and we’re in pain.

 

So why did I go to the Temple on that particular day? Guided by the Holy Spirit? Maybe – although why the Holy Spirit should guide me more than anyone else, I don’t know. Yes, I was looking for the Messiah, hoping, like I always do. Maybe it was those verses in Malachi, where God says ‘See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his Temple.’ But like I said, Malachi was writing ages ago. Why should it be that day of all days that the prophecy came true? And in such an unexpected way.

 

Malachi suggested that it might be a hair-raising experience when the Messiah, arrived. ‘Who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire, and like fullers’ soap.’ That’s easy to understand. You can see the silversmiths in the market, how they use a fierce, intense flame to burn away any impurities in the silver, refining it until it shines bright in the sunlight. And you can walk down Fullers’ Lane, the street by the pond, where they use a kind of soap – it’s clay really – to wash out any greasiness or dirt from the cloth, before it’s dried and sent up to the cloth traders. That sounds good – the Messiah is going to get rid of the dirt and impurity. But then – we’d all have to be cleaned, because none of us is pure. Me too. But I’d survive – I hope. Still me, still alive. It sounds like a harrowing experience – but maybe, like being scrubbed clean in the bath by mother when we were little kids, we’d feel better for it afterwards.

 

What I didn’t expect was that the Messiah should turn out to be – just that: a little kid. A baby. About as threatening as … well, there’s nothing threatening about a baby in his mother’s arms. But the moment I saw them, something said to me, why not? Why shouldn’t this be the Messiah? What did you expect? Thunder and lightning, and the wrath of God descending? Legions of heavenly angels swooping down, magically driving away the Roman armies, the foreign occupiers, from our land? The sorcerers and adulterers and all the rest suddenly being zapped?

 

Why shouldn’t the Messiah be a baby – one of us? If what we need is love and purity, what better than a baby? A baby brings out the best in us; you can’t help loving that tiny person, so weak and helpless, so fragile and vulnerable. You instinctively want to protect and care for a baby. I’ve seen rough men with great big rough hands, and rough tongues too, judging from their language, come over all soft and gentle with a baby. And you can’t accuse a new baby of anything impure or nasty: they haven’t learnt that from the world yet.

 

And so I went up to them, and asked his mother if I could hold the child for a moment. And the words just came to me, and I spoke them.

 

‘Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word;

for my eyes have seen your salvation…’

 

And then I thought: he’s not always going to be a baby. He’s going to grow into a man. And if he’s going to try to refine and purify people, he’s going to face criticism. He’s going to be opposed. How people react to him and his message will say a lot about themselves, and their inner thoughts. Some will be for him, others will be against him. It could be dangerous. Some people will be hostile, maybe even hate him. It could be very painful for his mother. And I spoke my thoughts out aloud.

 

But all of that lies ahead. For me, I’m at peace now. I have seen salvation, in a baby – one of us. Isn’t that what the prophets said he would be called – Emmanuel. God with us.