Candlemas 2020

Malachi 3:1-5 and Luke 2:22-40

So today we come to the end of our Christmas celebrations. The long awaited Messiah has arrived, to judge and purify God’s world, but not with wrath and blood red skies as some Old Testament prophets imagined, but quietly, gently as a scrap of a child. And over the last few weeks, we have watched people begin to recognise who this child is – having their epiphanies, their “A-ha, I get it” moments, of recognition. And so we finish with one last moment of recognition. Simeon and Anna, those faithful servants, who had waited and prayed for decades, and suddenly they see what they have longed for all those years. Just another couple bringing another baby to the Temple, yet with eyes and hearts trained by a lifetime of devotion they recognise the promised Christ.

There is so much that can be said about this encounter, but I want to think about Simeon’s words that this child would be salvation for all peoples, a light to reveal God to the nations. Anna rushed about the Temple to tell the good news to those who had been waiting for God to rescue Jerusalem. But the reality was that, in Jesus, God had bigger plans than just one city in one century – God was coming to rescue all God’s children in all centuries. This was good news not for a city or even a nation but for the whole world.

Luke, Matthew and John are all clear in their different ways that Jesus’ arrival was for everyone. John’s gospel begins with the amazing prologue. In the beginning was the Word… It is an account that begins with the cosmos and again talks of this child being a light to all the world, revealing God the Father. Matthew’s account has the wise men, people who were not people of the covenant, but people of a different race, religion and culture. In Matthew’s narrative, they too were drawn from the ends of the earth to worship. This baby is for everyone.

Friday was a momentous day for our country. People deeply disagree whether it was the right thing to do and will continue to do so. Some of us feel very British and felt that our national freedoms were compromised by EU membership. Some of us really valued being European Union citizens, valued working with others across our continent and deeply mourn that loss. 

The last few years have been difficult ones and there has been a lot of debate. I have a friend who works in peace and reconciliation and loves all things political. Like myself, he was pro-remain and from time to time we would chew over the latest developments in the news. A few months ago, we were having such a conversation when he said to me quite bluntly “Of course, God doesn’t care whether we leave the EU of not…” It felt like someone had dunked a bucket of ice cold water over my head, but I knew that he had a point. God has no particular loyalty to Britain or the European Union. God is neither a Leaver nor a Remainer. God is for everyone, and God’s concern is not whether I am Scottish, British or European, but whether I am, as a follower of Jesus, working for God’s purposes of love in the world. 

Now in saying this, I am not saying that politics doesn’t matter, that how we vote, the leaders we choose or the decisions they make don’t matter. Rather that it is all caught up in God’s bigger perspectives of love, justice, hope and redemption. And in our Old Testament reading we get a glimpse of what that might look like, as God sets out what it is not! Instead of deceptive sorcerers and those who speak falsely, we must work for truth. Instead of adultery, we build faithful relationships. Instead of exploiting the labours of others, we will pay fair wages. Instead of oppressing the widow and orphan, we will defend the right of the vulnerable in our society. Instead of denying justice to the foreigner in our midst, we will treat others as we would be treated ourselves.

We woke up yesterday morning out of the European Union, and who knows quite how that will work out. But whether we were for Leave of Remain, whether we rejoiced or were despondent, our task as citizens of the Kingdom of God is the same. It is, as we have received the light of Christ ourselves, to share that light with all people. ALL people. No exceptions. All humanity is our neighbour whom we are called to love. The world is our parish whom we are called to serve. Today, we bring our Christmas celebrations to a close, but Christmas never ends. As African American theologian and poet Howard Thurman once wrote:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart.

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