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Sunday Sermon

Sermon for the Forth Sunday of Epiphany 2024 - Candlemas- Presentation of Christ in the Temple 2024 Malachi 3:1-5

Psalm 24, 1-end

Hebrews 2, 14-end

Luke 2, 22-40

May I speak in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen Today is Candlemas, the day when we remember the wonderful moment when Mary presents Jesus in the temple and Simeon is blessed with the sight that he’d longed for all his life.  ‘My eyes have seen your salvation’, he says, expressing his joy at finally experiencing the transformative presence of the baby he recognises as the Messiah. 


In the past people would gather the first snowdrops of spring and use them to decorate churches for Candlemas, perhaps because as symbols of light and hope in the darkness of winter they suggested something of Simeon’s experience in the Temple.  One of the earliest legends of the snowdrop tells how the first winter came as a terrible shock to Eve, who was grieving for the beautiful flowers of spring and summer.  An Angel caught a flake of driving snow, breathed life into it and transformed it into a flower for her.  In the story the snowdrop breaks the spell of winter and brings Eve hope that the world won’t always be so bleak and grey.  Like so many ancient stories this one invites us to stop and look differently at the world, to see what Eve and Simeon see, that it’s possible to encounter God’s presence even when the world seems dark and comfortless... Candlemas was also the day on which the candles that were to be used in church services in the coming year were blessed; a way of reminding everyone that, as Simeon says in today’s reading,  Jesus comes as a ‘light for revelation.’.  


Today our readings invite us to encounter that light of revelation for ourselves, to see God in everything, even, or perhaps most especially, in a tiny baby.  Seeing God in the everyday has been central to our Epiphany readings since the start of the year-it’s what unites Simeon in the Temple today with the wedding guests in last week’s reading whose water was turned into wine, with Nathaniel under his fig tree, suddenly aware that it’s Jesus standing there in front of him, and with the three kings venturing into that smelly stable with their gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

All of them suddenly find a new way of seeing God in the everyday and all of them, particularly I imagine those wedding guests whose water got turned into wine, felt a deep joy which transformed the way they saw the world...


Rowan Williams has just brought out a book called Passions of the Soul in which he writes about three different ways of seeing. There is an ‘angelic’ way, a ‘human’ way,  and a ‘diabolic’ way.  The angelic way of seeing is, he says, ‘seeing everything in the world as being full of God’s creative goodness, ‘glowing in its reality.’  The diabolic way of seeing is the opposite-looking at the world and thinking ‘what can I get out of this-how can I use the world’s resources to make myself wealthier, more comfortable, better off...’. The human way of seeing is when we try hard to look at the world as being full of the glory of God but find ourselves constantly giving in to our individual desires and selfish impulses.  Most of us probably find ourselves wobbling somewhere in between; to see the world purely in that angelic way takes prayer and practice and self-discipline.  Luke tells us today that Simeon and Anna the prophetess have worked at it for their whole lives. But Simeon’s joy shows us that even though it might take a lifetime to learn how to see in this angelic way, its worth it, because to see the world as nothing other than full of the glory of God is to experience a deep sense of joy and wonder and to be totally transformed.


So where do we start? How do we discover that angelic way of seeing? Well, two weeks ago we read in John chapter 2 how Philip tells an initially disbelieving and rather grumpy Nathaniel ‘Come and see’.  Along with Jesus’s post resurrection invitation to the disciples to ‘come and have breakfast’ [always a good idea] this is one of my favourite Bible verses; The invitation to ‘come and see’ seems to me to express everything that makes Christianity in general and Epiphany in particular so special.  It’s an invitation rather than a command, there’s no deadline by which we must reply, and neither is this form of seeing the prerogative of Kings and prophets or even former archbishops of Canterbury.

‘Come and see’ seems to me to be an invitation to us all to discover that angelic way of seeing for ourselves. It’s been at the heart of everything we’ve been hearing about in our readings since Epiphany began immediately after Christmas …. the invitation to see the world differently, not as Eve sees it in the snowdrop legend, bleak, and dismal, or as a means of gratifying our own selfish desire to consume more, but as alive with the glory of God.  An epiphany is an experience which changes everything for ever, and this season of epiphany has been full of stories of people whose way of seeing has been transformed for ever from the human to the angelic.


First, we heard about the three Kings, who see what Simeon sees today, that the defenceless baby before them is the messiah, and as a result are overwhelmed with joy.  Then on the second Sunday in Epiphany we heard about Samuel, hearing God’s call and being blessed with visions as a result. Then there was Nathaniel, who responds to Philip’s invitation to come and meet Jesus and whose cry ‘you are the Son of God!’ shows how this meeting transforms the way he sees the world. On the third Sunday in Epiphany, we had the turning of water into wine, when Jesus ‘revealed his glory and his disciples believed in him.’  Then today we encounter Simeon, who experiences the mystery of the incarnation at the very end of his life.   These are all characters whose sense of seeing has been transformed by their willingness to put self aside and to look at the world as infused with the mystery of God’s presence everywhere and in everything.


In each one of these Epiphanies God enters the world of the human senses in a form which is vulnerably and triumphantly human.  In today’s gospel He comes to Simeon as a tiny baby, but Simeon understands that this is a Messiah who isn’t going to be reduced to human dimensions. in Shakespeare’s play king Lear, a character called Gloucester who is blind tells us that after a lifetime of pain and suffering he sees the world ‘feelingly’, and to see the world feelingly is to see it in a way which is infused with love, to see it as perhaps God sees it.  The joy felt by Simeon in today’s Gospel, or the three Kings kneeling in the stable, or Nathaniel, or the wedding guests, is the joy of people living everyday lives who suddenly see everything ‘feelingly’. Through encountering Jesus they’ve discovered that God’s loving presence infuses everything they see and experience. Suddenly they understand that His love is everywhere and in everything. They see, in the words of Gerald Manley Hopkins, that:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.

If you were lucky enough to have looked out at the sky early this morning and seen how the spectacular sunrise infused everything with a wonderful rosy glow you too would have felt a sense of the world as being charged with the glory of God.


One thing we share with all the characters we’ve heard about today and in the past few weeks is a common humanity- that rather wonderful sense that they are just as human as we are, and that because of this their transformed sense of the world as being full of the glory of God can be ours as well.  We just need to work at training ourselves how to see the world as they see it, and that might be through silent contemplation, or reading or even just looking thoughtfully and lovingly at the world we encounter every day, this morning’s sunrise for example.

So today, before we leave Epiphany behind and enter the season known somewhat prosaically as ‘Ordinary Time’, as God calls us to share the revelation granted to Simeon, Anna, Nathaniel and the three kings, and invites us to ‘come and see’ how present he is in our lives and in the world around us, let us hope and pray that we might discover that angelic way of seeing the world for ourselves.


In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy spirit amen.


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