Saturday, February 3, 2018

Presentation of Our Lord

Where is Our Song?

Readings: Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84:1-7; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:2-40

At this time of year I always like to watch the movie Groundhog Day. I watched for it again this year but it was not on. It is about an extremely cynical weatherman who is sent to cover the groundhog’s yearly appearance and to report on whether or not he has seen his shadow. The problem is that it is always Groundhog Day. Tomorrow never comes. He finishes the day only to find it repeating itself over and over again. At first he uses it to over indulge and to do crazy things, knowing that even if he kills himself, tomorrow will come. A transformative change comes over him as he begins to see it as an opportunity to improve his life. He is able to take one day and live it until he gets it right. It becomes a story of great hope.

That seems fitting to me, because Groundhog Day is, after all, a very hopeful day. The groundhog coming out of its hole reminds us that winter is half over. The days are beginning to get longer. Spring is just around the corner. Especially this year as we seem to be enduring endless winter, it was a hopeful day. Now we do not celebrate Groundhog Day in church. However, Candlemas, which we are celebrating, has some curious connections to the secular celebration that coincides with it. Not only do they occur on the same day; they both mark the day on which winter is half over. There is an ancient rhyme about Candlemas that may well remind you of the groundhog and his shadow.

If Candlemas day be fair and bright,
Come winter, have another flight.
If Candlemas bring clouds and rain,
Go winter, and come not again.

However, there is more to this celebration than the prognostication of the weather. It came to be called Candlemas because that was the day on which the year’s supply of candles for the church were blessed. Candles were lit to symbolize that Jesus Christ had come into the world as light. Today it is celebrated as a commemoration of the purification of The Blessed Virgin Mary forty days after the birth of her son. It also marks the presentation of the infant Jesus in the temple. It is a celebration of great hope as we recall the saving purpose of the incarnation. It is for me a wonderful example of the power of song and prayer to create meaning, identity and courage in a way that words alone cannot. It reminds me of Augustine’s saying, “We who sing, pray twice.”

Luke tells the story through the eyes of two saintly people who both have a song to sing. The first song belongs to Simeon, a devout Jew who is waiting for the coming of the Messiah. Simeon is an old man living at a troubled time in the history of his people. It is a nation occupied by the powerful Roman Empire. The laws of the land are harsh. His whole long life has been one of hardship and difficulty. Yet each day he goes to the temple to worship God, to pray for the salvation of Israel, and to await the Messiah. God has promised that he will see the Messiah before he dies. He knows that God will keep that promise.

The day comes when Mary and Joseph bring Jesus into the temple. He is the first-born son, and is to be dedicated to God as is the custom amongst Jewish families. His parents then reclaim him by paying a small ransom to the priest. A wealthy family would be expected to give a large gift. Mary and Joseph are poor. They bring with them a small gift, a pair of turtledoves.

As is his habit, Simeon is there, praying. When Mary and Joseph bring Jesus into the temple that day, Simeon knows the ift that God has given him. He recognized in this child the very one for whom he has been waiting all these years. This is the bringer of the promised salvation, the one who will open the eyes of the Gentiles to the truth of God. So when he sees the child he takes him in his arms and sings a song of thanksgiving to God. Through his faithful prayer, through faithfully seeking God, he comes to a meeting place with God. He knows God’s grace at work in his life. “My eyes have seen your salvation,” he says, recognizing who it is in his arms. His song is a lament, but this is no song of resignation in an old man ready to die. This is a call to action as he takes up his ministry. He is embracing the future with all that it holds in store for him.

There is another song that Simeon sings. He has a prophecy for Mary. Simeon wants Mary to know that her baby Jesus will grow up to be a sign that will be opposed by many in Israel. “A sword will pierce your own soul too,” he tells her.

Anna sings next. She is an elderly prophet who spends her time in the temple, fasting and praying, awaiting with expectation the day of the Lord’s coming. She too discerns the mysterious significance of the child Jesus. Hers is a song of praise and thanksgiving. She receives the Christ child as a sign that God keeps God’s promises, and all she can do is respond with thanksgiving. Like Simeon she becomes a model of what we might strive and pray for, the capacity to recognize the on-going creativity of God in the world.

I like that story of Simeon and Anna, two ordinary people who see God in a most extraordinary way. They did not witness any miracles, no signs, no wonders. All they did was to look at the baby, and they believed. What a wonderful concept of God they both have! What a breadth of vision! So often our God is too small. We want our faith to be a personal thing. God is “my God”. Religion is my personal possession. It is about my well being, my problems, about meeting my needs. God becomes the God of my church or my way of life or my race.

Let’s fact it! It is difficult to watch the news without being confronted by a barrage of hopelessness. We hear allegation after allegation of sexual misconduct. We hear of violence of nation against nation, of people against people. We witness catastrophic events, hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, fire and drought. We hear of children dying of hunger. We hear of global warming. We wonder where it will all end.

In this modern day church of ours, We need the vision of Simeon. We need the wisdom of Anna. The Anglican Church is a wonderful and diverse communion, rich in cultural makeup, rich in liturgical tradition. We have so much to offer to our communities. How do we continue to reach out to a growing and changing community with limited resources? How do we encourage young people to stay and be part of our community? How do we bring up children in the faith? How do we face the challenges of a society that is becoming more and more secularized? How do we keep faith when the world around us seems to be in a state of chaos? How do we remain hopeful?

Where is our song? We are called to sing all kinds of songs. There is a power in singing. Songs create light and life. Songs give us hope. They help us to express the deep longings in our souls. They share the story of our faith.
And honestly, sometimes all we can do is sing. Quite rightly, the song we begin with is a lament about all that is going on in the world. Many of the psalms that we sing week by week are laments. Lament is a very real way to stay close to God, to relate to God, during times of trouble. Theologian Walter Brueggemann says that the power of lament is an act of bold faith because it insists that we experience the world as it really is and not simply as we want it to be. The beauty of it is that what begins as lament blossoms into praise and thanksgiving.
It is fitting that we began this Eucharist by singing Simeon’s song. In this meal we like Simeon, not only hear, but also see, touch and feel the promise of life that God makes to us. And after receiving this promise from God in the bread and wine broken and poured, we go out as bread into a hungry world.
Like Simeon and Anna in the temple, our eyes too have seen the glory of God. We have seen it all around us. We have seen it at work in our lives and in the lives of those we love. We have seen how God graces us. It is a glory that we need to share. We do that by offering ourselves, our time, our talents, our treasures, to God. That is the hope for the Church. That is the hope for a world that badly needs to experience God’s grace. Amen.

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