Tomorrow, February 2nd, is exactly 40 days after Christmas Day and our celebration of the birth of Jesus.
During those 40 days we have been celebrating Epiphany – all the many ways in which we see God revealed in our world, the many different glimpses that Jesus Christ gives us of just what it means to have God here with us.
We have heard the story of how Mary & Jospeh brought Jesus to the temple, at 40 days old, in accordance with the Jewish law.
The law of Moses states that 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, because it was considered that after the vital forty-day period it was almost certain that all mortal danger was passed.
This is a perfectly normal event in the life of any Jewish family but what happens shows us that this is not an ordinary family. Luke tells us this story because he believes it is a story which will help us to understand more about what God has done in Jesus Christ: to grasp the good news of God’s coming kingdom.
We hear how Simeon & Anna see and recognise the 40 day old Jesus – and know this is the one. Here is another moment of epiphany, a revelation in the midst of ordinary life of the glory of God come to earth.
Luke wants us to know that Jesus is not just the one to be looked for by Simeon and Anna, the one to bring hope to Israel, but is the one who brings good news to all time and space – to the whole world. ‘A light for revelation to the Gentiles’ – light and hope for Jew and non-Jew alike.
And so just as Rembrandt shows us in his remarkable and beautiful painting, this is an event which opens our eyes to new ways of looking.
We see the contrast of age and youth,
we see beginnings and endings of life,
we see Simeon who goes home from the temple in peace – satisfied that he has seen the salvation God is bringing and at peace in himself, and we see Anna, stirred into telling all the world around what marvelous things God has done.
As we look at the picture we might think that Simeon looks very involved, holding onto the baby; whilst the shadowy figure, which may be Anna, is more of a by-stander.
Or is that second figure Mary, pondering the words of Simeon that ‘a sword will enter your own heart’? Is this a moment of great joy or great sorrow?
And what does all this say to us?
The message of Luke is that God has come to us, that heaven is shining through in the ordinary things of life, that we are never abandoned and may hope for new and abundant life.
As we come with our seeking, hoping, and longing in the ordinariness of this day, Christ comes – God’s chosen, the one who can save us, the one who can change things, by revealing God’s love.
We who sit here and listen to Luke’s gospel can know that God is with us.
So we might think that we too can be Simeon – satisfied to go in peace, re-entering life with a sense of completion
Or do we feel more like Anna – wanting to tell the world around us what we have seen and heard and known here, of God with us?
Or are we Mary, today – still pondering, still wondering, needing time to decide quite what it is that God is doing and how we really feel?
Only you know how God is stirring your heart and mind and soul.
But as this is still Epiphany, we might see God is new ways in this reading.
We speak of this as God’s house – and yes, by God’s grace, it is. Here we listen to God’s word, he hear God’s story, we know through what we hear and through the fellowship we enjoy that we too can be part of this amazing story of God with us, and we go to love and serve the Lord in the world around us.
We can see our worship as a visit to the temple where, if we are receptive we can meet with Christ, as Simeon and Anna did.
But this is Epiphany – God revealed to us in new ways. And so we can move on in the imagination of our hearts from this beginning, to the end of the earthly life of Jesus. The Jesus who was alive in the baby in the temple becomes the Jesus dying on the cross and the Jesus laid in the tomb, so that he can become the Jesus risen and living and ascended and no longer confined to any earthly body.
The baby in the temple is now the Lord in the world.
So although we can meet with Jesus here in this church, we can also find him revealed in the world outside. And Epiphany teaches us that we might see Jesus in the most unexpected places and even in the most unexpected people.
So this last week I believe I have glimpsed Jesus, God with us
Monday – Benedectine brothers of Downside Abbey
Tuesday – at the Synod pastoral committee, as together we talked about and cared for the churches of our Synod
Wednesday – with a meeting of representatives form the Torbay area churches, discussing mission and ministry and starting to hope for the future
Thursday – in a person who was sweeping the street as I was trying to pull out of my drive, and who stopped to smile & wave me out
Friday – as I sat and listened to someone talking about a family funeral they had just attended
Saturday – celebrated with Tavistock URC their new roof on the church after nearly 25 years of leaks.
Today – I see Christ’s face in each of you
Where will you find Christ this week? Will you look and listen? It may be that you will find Christ in people, in meetings, in prayer, in Scripture, in silence, in the busy-ness if life. In all these ways you may find that God come to us – lives among us – and will never leave us
In the grace and the gift of Christ our Lord. Amen.