Luke 2:22-40; Hebrews 2:14-18
4th after Epiphany: Candlemas
St Barbara’s 30.01.2022
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Over the last three weeks Earlsdon has experienced some really tragic events. Three weeks ago, there was the armed stand-off with police in Earlsdon Street North for five days. We give thanks to God that in the end the siege ended without loss of life, but we can only wonder at the mental suffering of all those involved. And then this week, the tragic death of a five year old boy in Poplar Road.
These unconnected events have brought home to many of us the realities of what life is like for many, that home may not be always a place of safety and peace, but can be a place of vulnerability and danger.
That vulnerability in the home can manifest itself in other ways too, quite separate from the instances in Earlsdon in the last few weeks. In the twelve months up to the end of March 2020, an estimated 2.3 million adults experienced some form of domestic abuse, and the fear is that since then, during the time of lockdown, things had got even worse. 1 in 3 women aged between 16-60 will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime. The NSPCC estimates that 1 in 10 children have been neglected at some point. These statistics don’t just relate to other communities. They relate to our community too.
So what do our Bible readings have to say to us today, on this day when we celebrate the presentation of Jesus in the temple, his being dedicated to God?
Well, the first thing that Jesus’ dedication reminds us of is that every human life is precious, every human life is worth celebrating, every human life is worth offering into God’s hands. Human life must never, ever become treated as anything less than of infinite value.
The statistics we have just heard are not just figures. They speak about individual lives, certainly loved by God, and usually loved by those who have brought them into the world, loved by people around them, and yet who find themselves being treated as less than special, subject at times to appalling mental or verbal or physical abuse. Today, as church, we need to reaffirm the value of every human life, to say that all people deserve love and compassion, whether that is the people we live with, the people we work with and socialise with, or the people we will never meet in other parts of our city or wider world. Just as Mary and Joseph, in bringing Jesus to the temple that day, were offering him up to God, giving thanks for his life, commending him into God’s hands, so each of us should live in such a way with all those who we meet and encounter. Life is never cheap. It is always of infinite worth.
The second thing that this story of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple may have to say to us today is that God identifies with his suffering world. Bishop Tom Wright describes this story as a story about suffering. Simeon has been waiting day after day for God to come and comfort a hurting, desperate Israel. And when he realises that in the baby Jesus that time has come, he speaks of further suffering, of opposition and a sword that will pierce Mary’s heart as well.
For Mary and Joseph we see their suffering too. We know that they must have been the poorest of the poor by the type of offering they make at the Temple – these were people struggling to make ends meet. And imagine the bitter-sweet moment when Simeon speaks so hopefully of their child and all he will mean to Israel, but then finishes by speaking about the opposition that will be formed against him, about the fact that he will be a divisive figure, and one who will suffer much. How would any parent not react with pain and grief at such a prediction?
Simeon’s words reveal that God knew the kind of world he was letting his son be born into, a world of violence and abuse, a world where people forget how to love, or to forgive, or to cherish life. God knew this and still sent his son for us. Christ knew this, yet still he came. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it, Christ “shared in our humanity… he became like one of us in every way that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest… he himself was tested by what he suffered so he is able to help those who are being tested.”
There are times when it is right for us to want to shout with anger, with pain, at the evils and injustices in our world. As we do so, let us know that God is not far and remote and aloof from the suffering of our world. He came and shared it with us.
But there is more. And today as we pray for our community, as we pray for lives throughout our world who suffer so much, it is important that we hold on to one other aspect of this story of Jesus being brought to the Temple. For when he is brought in, an old man who has been waiting for years to see the salvation of Israel, who has been longing with all his heart for hope to be born, a man who refuses to relinquish his hold on life until he sees this day, this old man Simeon bursts out in prayer and praise: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people |srael.” And Anna, an 84-year old widow, comes up to Jesus too at that very moment and starts thanking God and telling others around her that the day of redemption is here.
For Simeon and Anna, inspired by God’s Holy Spirit, are able to see the hope, the light, that Christ will bring. They are able to see that all is not lost, that Christ’s coming will mean that ultimately love will prevail. That in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, “a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people” will be made. That in Christ a way will be found where love will conquer, where forgiveness becomes possible, where light will shine and overcome the darkness.
In Christ’s death and resurrection we are already beginning to see the outworking of that hope. In the work of his people the church, in the work of love of all his people, we are seeing that hope continued, and we know that in time, a day will come when that hope will be realised in all its fulness when God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven, and death and evil and suffering will be no more.
We are called to be a hope-filled people, a people who look forward to a future where love and compassion and justice prevail, and a people who live out that hope in the here and now, living lives that value every life, living lives that are full of compassion and love. As with Anna and Simeon, as with Mary and Joseph, we can only do that with God’s help. May he fill each one of us with his Holy Spirit. Amen.