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A few weeks after Christmas we recall the day on which Christ was presented in the Temple, when he was offered to the Father and shown to his people. In their old age Simeon and Anna recognised him as their Lord, as we today sing of his glory. This evening, we celebrate both the joy of his birth and we look towards the coming days of his passion.
Almighty and ever-living God,
clothed in majesty,
whose beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple,
in substance of our flesh:
grant that we may be presented to you
with pure and clean hearts,
by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Before the strangers in far off lands.
And give fame and honour to your people,
Your precious nation of Israel.”
I’ve waited. I can’t tell you exactly how long. The days ran into months and the months ran into years. And as for the years, well, there were many of them. I have seen many seasons change and yet I still wait.
Waiting is hard. Waiting for something when you don’t even know when its coming is even harder. And waiting for a promise that some people think is ridiculous; when people stare at you strangely when you mention it, or laugh in your face, is the hardest thing of all. Yet still I wait, and hold onto the promise that I was given.
It all began such a long time ago. My name is Simeon, and one night, when I was young, something incredible happened, somehow, in a way I cannot really explain, God touched me. It was like suddenly finding a light in my heart, after an eternity of groping around in the darkness. It was like the coming of the dawn. It was like suddenly falling in love. It was like…well it was like a thousand celebrations rolled into one. That night God gave me a promise.
The promise was that I would not die before I saw the Messiah, the Christ himself, in the flesh. Which meant, of course, that it must be soon. That our liberation was coming soon. For how long could I live for? Another Ten, twenty, thirty years? Forty? Fifty? Not many of us get much further than that. But I was young. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to get to twenty-five. I was full of the excitement of a promise newly-given. Each morning after that I awoke and sprang out of bed full of excitement, wondering if this was the day;
But since then it has been hard. I soon gave up springing out of bed, as each evening came, filled with disappointment and impatience. Now I have lived a whole lifetime longing to see the promise come true. All my friends have gone, and I am alone in my waiting. Sometimes wondering if I must have dreamed it but knowing, deep down inside, that I must continue my search, continue my waiting. When I climb up the many stairs, with my knees shouting and complaining, to the temple, I scan every face, to look for the One I long to see, but somehow I know they won’t be there. For over time I have realised, after a lot of thinking and crying and screaming with impatience, that I will probably know where to look before I even turn my head.
And so we come to this morning. Today I had an inexplicable longing to visit the temple. I wonder if today really is the day, I am getting so old now that I cannot really imagine going on much longer. I throw on my coat, perhaps over-hastily for my age, and make the journey across the city and up the hill to the temple courts.
I arrived at the temple. I see hustle and bustle, shouting, singing, and excitement. Yet I feel compelled to go up a different staircase to my usual one. And in the fresh morning air and dappled sunshine the queues are already long for the sacrifices, couples queuing in the cold morning shadows.
There were many young boys being dedicated to God today. But then as I glance at a couple standing at the front of the line with a young baby, something happens to me. I cannot stop staring at them, and I feel almost as if, at that moment, time has stopped. The rest of the world almost doesn’t exist. I move over to them, as fast as my old legs can carry me, more like a hobble than a run, and I ask if I can hold the child in my arms. His mother is so young, but she smiles at me proudly and gives me her baby. I pull the blankets away from his face and stare down. And I know. Deep down, in the core of my being. I know that this IS the Christ, and my wait is over.
I hold the child, and he gurgles and dribbles on my clothes helplessly. Yet in that gesture I sense some incredible mystery. Something like the power of God is in him, but he is helpless because he chooses to be. I lift him high into the air, throw back my head and laugh, and in my laughter a prayer comes out.
“Now you can let me, your servant, go home in peace,
Just like you promised me so long ago.
For my very own eyes have seen your marvellous scheme.
Held in the tiny fingers of a baby’s hand.
The plans you have made in public
For the whole world to see.
A light that will shine
I see his mother’s eyes grow wide with wonder and her husband smile proudly and hold her close. And, as I give the baby back, I turn and bless them, but warn the mother that she has heartbreak ahead. For that child will strip away the secrecy from many people’s hearts and they will not like being exposed. A day will come when she will feel stabbed to the heart. And I wish it were not so, but some things just have to happen.
Finally I said my goodbyes and sit and simply watch the world go by.
But one particular part of the world. I watch the young couple give the offerings to the priest. I watch the prophetess Anna, singing praises to God over them, as if they were prophets or kings and I simply smile. Then I watch them walk away from the temple, disappearing through the archway, I watch them until they are small dots at the bottom of the staircase, and as they disappear and merge with the crowds below, I know that I can finally rest. The Christ has come. The Christ has merged with us, become part of our crowds, and now I can let go, knowing the promise has come true…
Hear the words of our Saviour Jesus Christ:
‘I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me shall never walk in darkness
but shall have the light of life.’
Let us therefore bring our sins into his light
and confess them in penitence and faith.
Perhaps like Simeon, our patience is tested, our life seems like a never ending journey of waiting, of loosing focus, of trying to hold onto God’s promises, full of anxiety or loneliness or fear for the future.
We’re going to take the opportunity to bring those things before God and to ask for God’s joy to fill those places in our life. So what is it that you need to give to God, to let go of? We’re going to do that by writing on a bird, just like the couples at the temple would have brought as an offering and when you’re ready you can bring your bird to our altar.
Prayer for lighting candles
Lord God, the springing source of everlasting light,
pour into the hearts of your faithful people
the brilliance of your eternal splendour,
that we, who by these kindling flames
light up this temple to your glory,
may have the darkness of our souls dispelled,
and so be counted worthy to stand before you
in that eternal city where you live and reign,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
God our Father, whose Son was revealed to Simeon as the light of the nations, and the glory of Israel, let these candles be to us a sign of his light and presence, that, guided by the Holy Spirit, we may live by the light of faith until we come to the light of glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.