Candlemas – evening
Sunday 3rd February 2019
Candlemas – evening
Haggai 2. 1-9
John 2. 18 – 22
Revd Preb Maureen Hobbs
Today we remember the presentation of Christ in the Temple – That occasion, a few weeks after his birth, when Mary and Joseph would have brought their new-born infant to the Temple in Jerusalem for the first time in his life. To offer thanks to God for their son and to offer the appropriate sacrifice.
So far, so relatively normal for any Jewish family. But there in the Temple something extraordinary happened, and it all had to do with two elderly people who make their entrance into the story of Jesus and then just as suddenly, disappear again. Simeon and Anna; giving us all reassurance that this amazing nativity is not just about new life and the child. Or rather, that it is, but that this has meaning for the old as well as those who will live to see the baby grow to manhood and experience his ministry.
I like to think of the parents with their baby – possibly he was restless and making a noise as young children will do. Especially when you are in a holy place; somewhere that respectable people come to feel close to God and to say their prayers. You can imagine their discomfort as the old man Simeon is disturbed by the noise and comes over to them. No doubt they were expecting to be told off along the lines of “Can’t you keep that child quiet! Remember where you are!” … How many of you had that experience or something similar when you were trying to bring a child to church? Probably rather too many!
But instead, Simeon asks to be given the child and make an astounding prophecy over him. A prophecy that we remember at every sung evensong in the words of the Nunc Dimittis – Simeon’s song!
After all his years of waiting to see the salvation of Israel something about this couple; something about this child among so many, makes Simeon cry out – Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation…. which thou hast prepared to be the glory of thy people Israel.
The prophet Haggai wrote of the restoration of the Temple and that its future glory would come – even though it had been left in ruins by the invading armies of the Babylonians. Now, here is the glory made flesh and blood. Not bricks and mortar, not even silver and gold, but human flesh, warm and sweet –and yes, noisy!
Simeon is the first to recognise that the Temple of God is not to be found in any contruction, but in the person of Jesus.
That is why, years later, when other devout jews were asking Jesus for a sign, he could speak about the destruction and rebuilding of a Temple that had nothing to do with visible buildings, but everything to do with his own self – his body.
And even though that body was to be horribly destroyed and broken on a cross, God would again bring about a miraculous restoration in the form of the resurrection.
Christianity has a huge investment in buildings. Church buildings have, for centuries been the most significant buildings in our communities. For many the entire passage of human life, from baptism to burial, is marked in one particular building – that is certainly true here! And even unbelievers no less than believers have a certain awe and fascination about these sacred spaces. They embody place, memory and pilgrimage. As landmarks in every community they compel us to define ourselves in relation to the beliefs and experiences they symbolise.
Judaism was no different in that respect. The Temple was one of the three pillars of Jewish faith and having their Temple in Jerusalem seemed to be the most important thing for them for centuries once they arrived in the Holy Land and began to unite under their kings. David was the first to conceive of building a permanent ‘home’ for God, but it was his son Solomon who would be the first to realise the vision.
But maybe the portability and temporary nature of the Tent of Meeting which is what the children of Israel took with them on their wanderings through the Wilderness with Moses, maybe that was a better symbol for the God who would always be with them – wherever their journey would take them?
And eventually it is Jesus, the Christ who would become the one to replace the Temple. He is God’s dwelling place for his time on earth. And after Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, and the giving of the Spirit, St Paul says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
So the future glory of the Temple is never to be found in buildings – as important as they continue to be to us, but rather in the lives of each one of us here tonight. “And the latter splendour shall be greater than the former, says the Lord”…..How will you make that glory shine out to others in the week ahead?