Almighty and everliving God, clothed in majesty, whose beloved Son was this day presented in the Temple, in substance of our flesh: grant that we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts, by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Luke 2: 22 – 33
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord – (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’) – and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord,‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.
Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.
I have a little prop for what I want to say to you today. It’s a glass with some liquid in it. And before any of you get carried away with yourselves thinking I’m going to re-enact the famous Rev I M Jolly scene where he drinks the contents of his glass, gets more and more inebriated and ends up saying: “It’s awfy guid waater this!” let me reassure you I’m NOT going down that road! Instead I want to pose a couple of questions and ask:
Why it is that one person can look at such a glass and see it as half empty, and another person can look at the same glass and see it as half full? Why is that? Why is it that an accident or a disease can destroy one person, whereas another person can somehow manage to overcome the limitations of a disability? Why is it that some people see life as a challenge and others see it as a burden? Good questions. And here’s what I think is a possible answer to them.
The way we view and understand the things that happen to us is as important as what actually happens. Our basic perspective (whether it’s optimistic or pessimistic, self-centred or outward looking) has tremendous power to determine our response to any event that comes our way.
Throughout Luke’s Gospel this theme of seeing and perceiving plays a very important role. In Luke’s Gospel we read of many people following Jesus but not always recognising who he really is. Others, like the disciples on the Emmaus Road, don’t recognise him at first, but they do eventually. In today’s reading, the reading for Candlemas,
Simeon is much quicker on the uptake. He sees and perceives right away. He recognises the infant Jesus as soon as his eyes fall on him and he acknowledges him as the hope and salvation of all nations.
Simeon, of course, is a devout man. He sees God everywhere – at the very heart of the world and of his own life. His mind, his heart and his eyes are always attuned, searching for the signs of God’s presence. So, he is able to recognise Jesus the minute Mary and Joseph bring him into the Temple. And as soon as he recognises him it’s as if all those years of patient waiting, all those years of long-suffering faithfulness, all those years of dogged persistence are rewarded and he sees before him the hope of the world, the light of the nations, the love of God in human form – the very best vindication for all his waiting in faith, hope and love, for spending a lifetime believing in the faithfulness of God.
What does all of this have to say to us today? What does it have to offer to us in these difficult times of seemingly endless isolation and restriction?
I believe it’s asking us to look afresh at how we see and perceive things, what our faith perspective really is. I believe it’s inviting us to look, once again, for the signs of God’s saving presence that are always all around us. Then, I believe, it’s calling us to show and tell our good news to a world that is desperate for signs of hope but sometimes just can’t see them because of the way it is looking.
As Christians I believe we are ideally gifted to help in this respect.
In the words of an old children’s hymn our cups aren’t just half full, they are running over; our cups are full and running over! Full and running over with the belief that this and all trials and tribulations will come to pass. They are full and running over with the faith that God sheds light in every darkness. They are full and running over with the conviction that, if we think with the mind of Christ, live in his light and act with his love we will have a very special hope in us, an inexhaustible supply of new life in us. And along with that hope and new life we will have an important calling to live out, one that makes these things real, tangible, credible for the world around us.
If we can somehow rise to that challenge, following the example of Simeon, following also, perhaps, the inspirational example of our new, national hero, the late Captain Sir Tom Moore, then we too might just manage to keep right on to the end of the road, with a positive, hope-filled outlook, a smile for everyone on our lips and a desire to do good to our neighbours. If we can do that, I’m sure that others will come to see, and seeing, come to believe, in the saving love of God and find hope and resilience in their souls that will carry them through whatever besets them. That’s what I believe this special little feast is saying to us today. I hope and pray we will all take its message to heart so that, at the end of the day, like Simeon and Captain Sir Tom, we too will be able to depart in peace having fulfilled our calling and played our part to keep the light of God’s love burning, to keep the truth of God’s faithfulness alive.