Sermon at Loughearnhead 29.1.06 Presentation of Christ
We’re using the readings of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple – the feast that falls next Thursday – 40 days after Christmas. The story of Jesus presented in the temple by Mary and Joseph is a favourite of mine for two reasons. One is about families and the other is about faith.
Families first – Mary and Joseph present their child to God in the temple. That action was a ritual required by the law – but it also carries meanings about the purification of Mary after childbirth, about thanksgiving from two young parents for the safe arrival of their child, about God’s care and protection of the vulnerable child as he grows up. These things go very deep. I’ve explored them in my own mind as a parent about our own children. I’ve gone there with members of my parish – particularly those who never came to church – asking ‘Why do you want your child baptised?’ And, of course, there is no single, simple answer. Rather a sort of complex of things which are about thanksgiving and protection and safety and the shaping of God’s spirit in the life of a child. And I’ve met it as a hospital chaplain in the life threatening situation where emergency baptism is necessary. It goes very deep. When Martin Luther believed that the devil was attacking or tempting him, he didn’t say, ‘I believe!’ He said, ‘I am baptised’
And now faith. Out of the shadows of the temple, there shuffle to the centre of the stage the two elderly people Simeon and Anna. The metrical version of the Nunc Dimittis says, ‘Faithful vigil ended; Watching, waiting cease. Father grant thy servants, their discharge in peace.’ Eyes have seen salvation – it’s time to leave. But all they had seen was the child of a poor young couple who had walked the 60 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem. So this is not ‘Seeing is believing’ It is that ‘those who believe can see’. In this case, they could see that this child was the fulfilment of promise.
When we see today – the bread and the wine; see one another as members of the body of Christ – does faith enable us to see all this and more as part of the working of God’s salvation. And, of course, what Simeon and Anna saw was not all good. They saw pain, suffering and loss. So, while the eye of faith sees the salvation of God for all people, it also sees the difficulties, the pain, the sacrifice and the loss which is involved in God’s way of bringing that about.
Baptism and belonging may give us a warm feeling of belonging, of being within, of being guided, protected. But we are the disciples of Jesus who lived in obedience and humility, who sacrificed, suffered and died as part of the working out of God’s will and purpose. But because the eye of faith can see the vision of how God works out these things, the suffering and the difficulty take their place as part of the way in which God does things – and the way in which all of us who seek to follow live out our discipleship.