A sermon for Christian Unity celebration based on
Malachi 3: 1-4 and Luke 2: 22-40
Anyone who – like me – is a fan of Handel’s Messiah will have had a hard time of it not bursting into song this morning. The reading from Malachi was full of good bits ‘the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple’… ‘but who shall abide the day of his coming’ ‘and he shall purify, and he shall purifyyyyyyyy..etc’
We cannot escape the connections of today’s scripture readings to the Lord’s Messiah (with or without Handel) – we are celebrating the presentation of Christ in the temple: the promise of Malachi fulfilled, the Lord’s anointed recognised just as the glory of God has been shining through all our celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany.
But of course it was very different for Simeon and Anna. They didn’t go to the temple to celebrate the presentation of Christ, or refer to it as Candlemas, or anything of the sort.
They were in the temple – as usual. In fact we’re told Anna never left the temple. An ordinary day, then, an ordinary act of purification following the birth of a child, an ordinary family, an ordinary 6 week old baby (if any babies are ever really ordinary!).
And yet in this ordinary event, Simeon and Anna recognise the moment at which their waiting is complete. Luke tells us Simeon has been ‘looking forward to the consolation of Israel’; whilst Anna tells all those ‘looking for the redemption of Jerusalem’ about the child. They have been waiting for God to act, for the Messiah to come, for the Lord to appear in his temple to refine his people. God has promised to come to his people in glory and in power: and in one baby among the hundreds, if not thousands, that they have seen, they recognise the fulfilment of God’s promise.
They know their Scriptures, they have been trusting and waiting, they are looking for God to act.
And what else do they require for their eyes to be opened to God’s presence in their world?
Luke tells us it’s the Holy Spirit.
Three times he mentions the Holy Spirit as he tells us about Simeon: the Holy Spirit rested upon him; it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah; and guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple.
So today we celebrate God with us in Jesus Christ, as we recognise with Simeon and Anna that this is the child who will grow to be the light of the world and the saviour of all who will believe in him. But we need also to be ready, like Simeon and Anna, to be open to the signs that God is acting in our world, today.
One of Rowan Williams’ often quoted statements about mission is “Mission is finding out what God is doing and joining in”. Whether we are wondering about our own individual lives – how can we be useful in the world? – or contemplating the purpose of our churches, individually or together, we need to be open to this question of what our mission, our purpose, our lives are about. And surely as Christians we want our purpose to be part of the purposes of God, to be part of God’s mission of love to the world. So we need to try to find out what God is doing, so that we can join in.
What do we learn today from Simeon and Anna about how we can do that?
They show us that we need to read scripture, to trust and wait, to look for God’s action in response to people’s need in our world.
We need to be ready to see God fulfilling his promise to care for and be present with the people he has made.
But how? How in the muddle of our lives, in the constant noises and clamour of the media, of the demands of technology, in the many relationships and needs which almost bombard us with worries and concerns– how in all this can we discern God at work?
As Simeon did, through the action of the Holy Spirit.
But don’t think for a moment that I’m suggesting that we should sit back and wait for the Spirit to do all the hard work, while we remain passively obedient and wait to be ‘zapped’. God’s spirit does not let us off the hook like that.
Simeon was not let off the hook by the Spirit – the action of the Spirit was not a substitute for reading Scripture, and for praying and trusting and waiting (in Anna’s case, for 84 years!). But through these things the Holy Spirit was able to act and show Simeon and Anna that the Lord has come to them that day in the temple.
So how can we be open to the work of the Holy Spirit?
By reading and seeking to understand Scripture together; by thinking and talking together;
by worshipping and praying together.
Together: because the gift, from God, of the Holy Spirit to the church is a gift that comes to all and to each and we discern its work best when we listen together and share what we have all heard God saying to us.
I am well aware that with a time of vacancy coming up, the four churches of Whittlesford, Pampisford & Duxford United Reformed Church will be thinking about their mission and who they might find to minister to them in that. They will need to do that together – but I hope that the seven churches will continue to grow together, in the time of vacancy and then with the help of the new minister when he or she arrives. We have made a start in our listening to one another – we meet, we worship, we pray together. And as Lent approaches we will have an opportunity to study and think together, too.
Let’s listen together for what the Spirit tells us of what God is doing among us – so that God’s light may shine in us and through us, in the name of Jesus our Messiah – the light of the world. Amen