On 28 January, the fourth Sunday of Epiphany, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 24, Malachi 3:1-5, and Luke 2:22-40.
Candlemas, which we celebrated on Sunday, has many meanings. Perhaps the most poignant is the fact that Jesus is presented in the Temple as belonging to the Lord and Simeon has to tell Mary that she will suffer a sword piercing her soul. What a message to have to deliver! What a message for a young mum to hear! But the cross overshadowed Jesus from his conception. It was necessary for our salvation.
Today we are celebrating Candlemas, which is on February 2nd, 40 days from Christmas. It can be moved to the nearest Sunday which is what we have done.
This festival has many names. It is the commemoration of Mary’s Purification when, as the Gospel informs us, the family made the required sacrifice for cleansing after the birth of a child.
It is also called the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Every first born son was presented to God, dedicated to him for life. This is, of course, absolutely right when we consider who the first born son of Mary and Joseph is: the Son of God, who has been dedicated to God from the beginning.
In the Orthodox tradition the festival is ‘The Meeting’ or ‘The Encounter’ when Simeon and Anna’s patience is finally rewarded as they meet their Messiah in the form of a 6 week old baby.
The fourth name of the festival is Candlemas, when candles for the year were blessed in the early church. It reminds us that Jesus is the Light of the World.
For us in the church, this is a turning point in the year. Since Christmas we have been enjoying the fact of the Incarnation, God come to dwell among us. We remembered the baby first, announced by angels as Saviour of the world, visited by magi who were looking for a king. Then we recalled Jesus the man, who was identified as God’s Son at his baptism and recognised as the Messiah by some, such as Nathanael, but not all. Despite some sad parts to the story, basically all of that is uplifting, hopeful news.
Now, on this day, we turn to look at why the Incarnation happened. It wasn’t so that we could ‘ooo’ and ‘ahhh’ at a new baby and his young mum. It wasn’t to give generations of children an opportunity to dress up in tea towels, dressing gowns and gold curtains. The Incarnation was necessary for our salvation.
I suspect it’s quite a common thing for us to look back on our lives at times and see where a certain action or event in the past was leading us. It might not have meant much to us at the time, but looking back with the benefit of hindsight we are able to see something as the first step to experiencing something we might never have imagined. Had we only had the insight, we might have noticed a shadow of the future hovering around us.
Likewise for Jesus, even from before his birth the shadow of the cross, on which he would die for our salvation, was there. Gabriel said that Mary’s baby must be called Jesus, because he would save the people from their sins. The shepherds were told that a Saviour, the Messiah, the Anointed One, had been born. The magi were seeking the new King of Judah, much to Herod’s consternation, thus bringing about the first attempt on Jesus’ life. At a time of joy and thanksgiving for the life of a child, Simeon warned Mary that Jesus would be a sign that would be opposed and that a sword would pierce her soul.
The shadow of the cross was always present in Jesus’ life from his conception. At this turning point in the Church year we face the coming of Lent, Holy Week and beyond that Easter, when the whole reason for the Incarnation is made clear. Without the baby there could be no man. Without Jesus, fully man and fully God, who was prepared to die for us, there could be no salvation.
The picture you can see on the pillar here at the front summarises the way the cross is present all through Jesus’ life. Robert Brannon wrote the poem ‘Overshadowed by the Cross’ at Christmas 2009 and asked his friend Steve Seropian to illustrate the idea. I’d like to read Robert’s poem to you:
The words of Gabriel were very clear,
His name is Jesus, salvation’s near.
A light to Gentiles, that is He,
To Israel, Glory and Jubilee.
I look down and see Him in the crèche,
The Baby whom angels call, “God-in-the-Flesh”.
And I am sure their words are true,
A Saviour’s born to make us new.
In Bethlehem is born this King,
The angels and all heaven sing.
And here I am, a mother-girl,
Watching prophecies unfurl.
My heart is a treasure-trove of awe,
As I watch my Jesus in the straw.
Then I lift Him from His manger low,
And count His fingers, and His toes.
As I lift Him up so very high,
The star of glory shines from the sky.
His body straight, His arms extend,
His shadow falls upon the pen.
Alas, what does His shadow cast,
This Babe in arms that I hold fast?
My soul is pierced! Oh, is all lost?
His shadow forms a Roman cross!
I cringe to think of death at birth,
Yet Jesus smiles in holy mirth.
Yes, Jesus has a destiny,
To pay sin’s price for you and me.
They’ll pierce You, Jesus, in the end,
You’ll pay our penalty for sin.
And how I love you, Saviour-King!
Salvation’s song, I now can sing!