As we looked at Rembrandt’s wonderful painting of Simeon in the temple, earlier in the service, I asked the question “What do you see?”.
Now as we turn to Luke’s gospel account of the presentation of Christ in the temple, I ask you to travel there in your imagination and ask again “what do you see?”.
If we had been in the temple with Simeon and Anna that day, at one level we would have seen nothing very extraordinary. Here is a family obeying the religious law, performing a traditional act.
We heard the law in Leviticus about purification of a mother after giving birth. 40 days after the birth of a son, the parents come to the temple to offer a sacrifice and seek a blessing. According to Jewish law, families were commanded to present their male children at the Temple in Jerusalem, to give thanks to God and pray for the purification of the mother and health of the child, for it was considered that after the vital forty-day period it was almost certain that all mortal danger was passed.
We would have seen, that day, a common sight – a couple with their first-born, come for purification. They are not rich – for they have 2 birds to offer, rather than a ram, they may very well not have been the only family there that day, this is a very common sight.
If you had asked most of the people in the temple that day “What do you see?” they would have told you this is a perfectly normal event in the life of any Jewish family.
But if you had asked Simeon and Anna - what do you see?, they would have told you that this is far from an ordinary family.
Here is God in our midst – the Messiah, the chosen, God’s own gift to the world.
Simeon has been hoping and waiting for the Messiah – he is longing for the one who will bring salvation .
We are told that “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah”. And on that day, the Spirit had guided Simeon to the temple.
All the hope of Simeon is fulfilled in this child. On that day in the temple, Simeon, the one whose eyes are growing dim, sees and recognizes Jesus, takes him in his arms, thanks God for him and says that here is
‘A light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people, Israel ’.
Simeon, waiting for the turn of the tide for the people of Israel, sees, in Jesus, light and hope for Jew and non-Jew alike.
And Anna echoes Simeon’s claim of hope fulfilled and in joy praises God to all who are looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Through the stories of these 2 people, Luke shows us that in the ordinary event of the purification ceremony for the 40 day old Jesus, God has broken into this world, shining through the ordinary things of this life to bring hope and light and joy.
In some churches today they will celebrate ‘Candlemas’ – they will light candles and all the congregation will process around with those candles, remembering the story of the presentation of Christ in the temple, filling the church with light in celebration of the coming of the light of Christ and promising that they will be witnesses to that light.
In the United Reformed Church we are not so given to that sort of display,
So what do you see as we worship God today?
As we come with our seeking, hoping, and longing in the ordinariness of this day, do we recognize that Christ comes to us, even without candles and ceremony?
Can we look around this familiar place and these familiar people and see Christ in our midst ? Can we come here to do what we think God requires of us in our worship: singing and praying and offering the sacrifice of our hearts, just as Mary & Joseph went to the temple to do what was required of them?
And in all this ordinariness can we, with the eyes of faith, see the one who can save us, the one who can change things, can we glimpse, here and now, a revelation of God’s love?
What do we see? Do we see God breaking in?
I hope so. Where prayers are offered and heard, where hymns are sung and believed, where God’s word is opened and explored. Here, today, in this worship, God breaks in in Jesus – a light in the darkness, a murmur in the stillness, a hope that cannot be shaken.
And when we can see Jesus in this place – then can we also reveal that incarnate love of God to others?
I hope we can – in many ways.
First of all, like Simeon, we can proclaim what we have seen: hope for those who need new hope, a God who is with us here and now and who will come to save and care for us when we most need him.
Secondly, like Anna, we can be filled with joy and praise – telling others what we have seen and found and known here: a God who hears us and touches us and heals us.
And thirdly we can, ourselves, be signs of the love God has for the world. We can live as those who know that God has come to us, that heaven is shining through in the ordinary things of life, that we are never abandoned and that we may hope for new and abundant life.
And we can do everything in our power to share that love with the world around us, in what we say and do and how we live.
In the grace and the gift of Christ our Lord, who comes to us today. Amen.