Thursday, 5 February 2009

Better late than never?

Candlemass: Malachi 3: 1-5; Luke 2: 22-40

The difficulty with starting any sermon by looking at the Bible readings is that if the preacher isn’t careful the impression can be given that the Bible is an old book full of ancient stories, which need to be studied carefully if they are to make any sense to our modern minds, but which can, with care, be bent around to give a meaning for today.

But that’s not what the Bible is – the Bible is God’s word to us now and we read it in each act of worship so that God can speak to us now, where and when we are listening. Those of us who were able to be at John Proctor’s Bible study at Whittlesford on Tuesday evening heard John saying that the story of Genesis – though thousands of years old – has something to say to us about our care of the planet right now.

So when we hear of God’s appearance in the temple in the prophecies of Malachi and at the start of Jesus’ life, we need to hear these as stories about God’s appearing and God’s concern for justice right now.

We are certainly living in a world in need of justice. Just this last week there has been a fierce row about the rightness and justice of the BBC screening an appeal from the Disasters Emergency Committee for the people of Gaza. Already I hear alarm bells ringing around me – preachers should steer clear of politics, and the politics of the Middle East are possibly the most hotly debated of all. But I don’t want us to ask about the rights and wrongs of land ownership – but to listen to God’s call for justice and peace.
Surely it is not the will of God that several hundred children should be killed in air raids – and that thousands more are without clean water, food to eat, and hospitals with medicines? That is not justice.
Malachi warns of a time when God will appear in his temple. It is a warning and not just a prophecy of hope because God will come like refiner’s fire, like fuller’s soap – burning, powerful, cleansing. Malachi wants the people of God to know that when God comes to them he will come demanding justice and not empty rituals of worship. Worship is intended to bring the people close to God and close to God’s will – to become people who know they are God’s own, and that God requires justice in his world.

And so, hundreds of years later, Simeon and Anna are waiting in God’s temple for the time of God’s salvation to come, for the kingdom of justice and peace to come in all its wonder and its terror. When a tiny baby is brought to the temple by his parents so that they can give thanks for his birth, Simeon and Anna recognise that God is at work uniquely in this baby. God has come, not in power to sort out injustice once and for all from on high, but God has come in this baby, Jesus – God with us, alongside us, bringing in the kingdom almost by stealth, inviting people to follow him and join his work to bring in justice for all people.

Simeon and Anna see the first signs of the light of Christ in the world – a light that will grow and will challenge all the dark places of the world. Jesus will grow into the man who fights sickness, isolation, who offers release for the captives of regret, history, oppression and evil.
Ultimately Jesus’ fight against injustice will take him to the cross – accepting that the price to be paid in the fight against injustice might be to give up life itself, to demonstrate the power of God which can overcome even death.

The Lord comes to his temple to bring the kingdom of justice – a kingdom that grows steadily as one person after another follows Jesus and becomes a citizen of the kingdom, joining the struggle for justice.

When we accept the bread and wine of communion we accept our part as one of those who work for the kingdom to come – a part of the body of Christ which is always working for peace, love and justice to prevail.

And so we cannot consign God’s promise to the past and forget that God is present here and now and is still demanding justice.
We cannot wait for God to act without us, but recognise God with us and within us challenging us to be part of the work for justice.
And we cannot claim that we must remain impartial while innocent children in Gaza are subjected to injustice and inhumanity.

As Malachi promised and as Simeon and Anna witnessed, the Lord God appears in his temple and demands justice from us.
May God’s love and presence strengthen us to follow Jesus
In his name

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