Sunday, February 05, 2023

The Grandfather Clock, the Power of Love and the Type of the Church and Society - A Candlemas Sermon


A grandfather clock - not ours.

We have a grandfather clock which stands in our dining room.  I have wondered at and wound that clock over many years.  It belonged to my grandfather and I knew that one day it would belong to me.

It was made in Glasgow in the early to mid 1800s. I often dwell on who has watched the minutes slip by on it’s face and heard the hours fall away to it’s chimes. At the moment it has stopped and remains unwound, hands caught at 9.15.

The Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple which we keep today, is not about the life of Christ stuck at a particular time or point.  The Orthodox know today as The Meeting or The Encounter for it centres on the meeting of Mary and Joseph with Simeon and Anna, but in the drama of what unfolds in those conversations and liturgical rites are in a way ongoing, and in them the miracle of Christmas, the Incarnation, God amongst us is continually affirmed in a meeting of Heaven with Earth and Earth with Heaven.

Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God… for my eyes have seen have seen your salvation…What makes us human - Jeremy Vine… poets, politicians, actors, journalists. Fot Julia Donaldson it is our understanding of time - the past, present and the future; for the journalist George Alagia it is care and compasssion; for Stephen Fry it is language; for the cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber it is, perhaps unsurprisingly, music. At the Feast of the Presntation, God’s answer to the question as to what makes us human, is love. 

As Christ is presented in the Temple, our humanity is offered to God with Him.  That’s all of our humanity, not just the Sunday best bits, because God takes all of what it means to human seriously. As we formally conclude our Christmas celebrations today we remember that in the Incarnation, God regards the impoverished, mundane, everyday material of humanity with such a generous love that he He is born amongst us, as one of us, as we are. In other words, God loves us, not as who we will be, or who we will become in His sight, but as we are now.  He loves those whom we find it hard to love, those who we are probably too afraid or ashamed to admit we don’t - the homeless, the drug or drink addled, gay, straight or bi. God loves regardless which way you vote, whether you are up to your eyeballs in debt, whether you are tattooed or pierced… And before you start wondering if this is becoming a sort of universalist ‘it’s all about love love love’ sort of a sermon - yes it is - God loves us all universally and unconditionally. The Meeting at the heart of todays Gospel is indeed Good News as the Christ child is revealed in the midst of the aged, young parents - not in worship, but in conversation - and their lives are changed.

What we remember today, is the hinge that binds crib and the Cross together - a link between what we celebrated at Christmas, with all that is to come at Palm Sunday, Good Friday and on to Easter Sunday. Our focus moves away from the crib to the font - the place where our much-loved humanity is affirmed with the kiss of love that is Christ’s cross, and we are commissioned to live our lives for Him.

Candlemas reminds us of the love of God for each of us, but of a love that transforms us, that heals us, that makes us to be more and more than we are or thought we ever could be. That love redeems us out of old habits, renews our drives and motives and offers us the ridiculous, seemingly unobtainable hope that we can become the people that both we and God long for us to be.  For as Christ is presented to God in the Temple, He offers back to us a hope of the Divine life of God for us and with us and in us, yes even us.

Candlemas is a vision of what not only the church, but our wider society could be. Instead of us living and loving within our age appropriate, gender-defined, politically constrained silos - God brings Simeon and Anna, Mary and Joseph and the Christ Child together as a model of intergenerational Godly living, loving and worship as a type for the church, but as a blueprint of what our whole society could and should be - where no-one is excluded, all are welcome and included and all are surrounded by the love of God. 

At the end of the service of Holy Baptism, a candle is given and a charge to each baptised person is made to ‘shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.’  Traditionally at this service, candles for the year for use in people’s homes and in worship were blessed so that the light of Christ could shine.  We will have a resonance of that ourselves at the end of our worship this evening.

That Baptismal charge though is not about our light shining, our agenda being heard, our ideologies or preferences being pushed to the fore, but God’s. Whilst He loves unconditionally and eternally, He calls us to love Him and others that way too - with a love that surprises and transforms.

As we pack away the tree lights and the crib and turn to the font and on to Christ’s Passion and Resurrection I am reminded of Howard Thurman’s remarkable poem:

When the song of the angels is stilled,

when the star in the sky is gone,

when the kings and princes are home,

when the shepherds are back with their flocks,

the work of Christmas begins:

to find the lost,

to heal the broken,

to feed the hungry,

to release the prisoner,

to rebuild the nations,

to bring peace among the people,

to make music in the heart.

The light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of your people Israel is the Light and Life of the Resurrection which shone through the night of Gethsemene; pierced the darkness at 3 in the afternoon; and shone brightly from the empty tomb. The hands on our grandfather clock may be stuck at 9.15, for now, but at the font we are called to shine with that same light of love, dispelling the darkness in every meeting, in every encounter…

Tonight we reaffirm again our willingness to take the Light of Life into the impoverished, mundane, everyday material of life, dispelling darkness with transforming light and love.

Tonight, our world still seems to be filled with the darkness of hatred and fear towards those made in God’s image and loved by Him; the humanity that we share, that God took on Himself needs His light and hope more than ever.

Tonight we are reminded that it is through us that the work of Christmas begins and that the light of God’s love must shine..

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