Candlemas – evening
Sunday 2nd February 2020
Candlemas – evening
Haggai 2. 1-9
John 2. 18 -22
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
Hiding in plain sight.
That is kind of what this festival in the church is all about. The presentation of Christ at the temple is the occasion when his parents bring him for the first time to the Temple. It would have been a very busy place and one more young couple with a baby would not have excited much notice. And yet, when you come to think about it, it was amazing. They were carrying God into his own Temple! And no one – or almost no-one knows!
Because so often we fail to notice what is right in front of our noses!
Some years ago an experiment was made. The world-famous violinist, Joshua Bell took his Stradivarius into the subway of New York and began to play some Bach pieces. Most of the commuters hurried past. Occasionally one would stop to listen for a short while. Even more occasionally, the passers-by would throw a few coins into his hat – lying on the pavement. The children were the ones who seemed to realise more than the adults that here was something extra-ordinary. They were the ones who stood transfixed, watching the maestro’s fingers producing this outstanding sound. Listening to the wonder of Bach’s music. But before long the grown-ups who were with them would drag them away – little realising that they were missing the opportunity to listen for free to a musician who a few hours later would be commanding hundreds of dollars per ticket for his concert in the Carnegie Hall or other concert venues. He was there, right in front of them. And they never knew….
So let’s think again of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.
They come in, exchange a few coins for the statutory turtle doves for a sacrifice to be made – giving thanks to God for the safe delivery of their new son and the survival of Mary – not an inconsiderable achievement. We hear much about infant mortality and lack of care in maternity wards in our own day – and Mary had benefit of none of that! So the little family come – one among many no doubt. Nothing of special interest, nothing to note.
Until that is, Simeon and Anna are drawn to notice them. And amid all the hustle and bustle. Amid all the splendour of the great columns and door ways, the carvings and the decorated stones adorning the great doorways. Amid all that two elderly people suddenly stop and realise that here is something – someone – quite extraordinary.
The Temple in Jesus’ time was newly rebuilt by Herod – seeking to establish his right to rule and popularity by emulating the great building project of Solomon from previous centuries and the rebuilding that had occurred after the Exiles returned from Babylon in the time of Haggai. That second Temple was considered to be a pale imitation of Solomon’s one – and the chronicles of Ezra in the Bible record that it was a disappointment to many. But we all know what we feel when something new is built to replace a much loved building that we have known – even if it has been destroyed by war. But the promise that God made through his prophet Haggai was not just about the splendour of the building. It was a promise, ultimately of prosperity and well-being. Haggai believed that the ancient covenant with God was still in force – even if the people had been disobedient. The Temple was proof that the old order still remained, and God still had a claim upon his people. The rebuilding of the Temple was the first step in a struggle that would continue over 100 years or more, in which Judea would gain some autonomy and independence.
Then twenty years before the birth of Christ, King Herod began to rebuild the Temple associated with Haggai. No doubt it was glorious and lavish, but it only served to show up how far Herod fell short of God’s promise. Herod’s Temple may have been on a grand scale, but it was a self-glorifying, self-serving vanity project, whose imminent destruction would be eventually foretold by Jesus when the baby grew to be a man.
“Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Jesus would, in his own body, replace the temple built by human hands, and his Spirit would create a living temple in the people of God.
With God the latter splendour will always be greater than the former – not because of human development, but because God’s glorious future, invades our present.
So sitting here this evening, you are God’s Temple – more glorious than anything built on the hill in Jerusalem, hiding in plain sight in front of us all.
The season of Epiphany which ends with our worship this evening is all about God showing himself to human beings. He does it all the time – his kingdom is all around us. But most of the time our eyes and ears remain closed. We do not see what or who is hiding in plain sight. We do not spot the glory of God, which is a human being, fully alive!