Candlemas 4 February 2019
Revd Caroline Risdon, Assistant Priest
Gracious God, we thank you for your word
and pray that it may deepen our love for you
and strengthen our faith in you.
That Christ may dwell in our hearts. Amen.
Today is the final Sunday in the Church season of Epiphany - the season of revelation - the time when we have traced the stories of Jesus being recognised as God. The theme of recognition has developed from the Magi, who understand who Jesus is when they see him; to John the Baptist, who sees the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus; and finally, to the disciples as they witness Jesus turning water into wine. Each of these events has shown us that Jesus is Emmanuel - God with us.
But those presentations are of Christ to the World. Today, in our gospel story, is the quiet human presentation of a child to God. Much as we witnessed the moving baptism of Emily last week, today we witness Mary and Joseph bringing the infant Jesus, only 40 days old according to Jewish custom, to be dedicated to God.
Our final story of recognition then is the Church festival of Candlemas, so-called because we understand Jesus to be the light of the world. It has also been known as the Meeting of the Lord, in appreciation of the role played by the prophets Anna and Simeon. They show us something about waiting on the Lord - in both senses of the word.
Anna and Simeon had spent long years waiting, in the sense of anticipation, for the Messiah. But they had also spent those years waiting, in the sense of active and lively worship and service, to God. When Anna and Simeon finally see Jesus, they understand that God has sent their salvation in the shape of this tiny child. But they do not only see a future for their people; they see hope for all people.
And, these thousands of years later, it is that same hope that compels us to come in to this Temple. When we bring ourselves to Church each week, we too are presenting ourselves to the Lord; we too are waiting on God.
Candlemas is also a turning point. Having celebrated the birth of our Saviour, we now turn from that joy into the mystery of Easter. We will travel there through the path of Lent, a time of penitence and reflection. It struck me that what we are waiting for at Candlemas and what we reflect upon in Lent are two sides of the same coin.
In this life, we hope for some knowledge of God’s truth. The truth that we are known and loved into creation. The truth that nothing, not even death, can separate us from the love of God. The truth of Emmanuel - God with us, each day, every day.
In the life to come, we hope for life eternal. And while we anticipate that life in Heaven will be the joy of being in God’s presence always; we know too that it is likely to be an awareness of our shortcomings.
The prophet Malachi describes this as the Lord drawing near to each of us “for judgement.” Understandably, Judgement has negative connotations. We think of it in our terms- as punitive; as retribution; as persecution. But Paul writes in his letter to the Corinthians that the Lord’s judgement will “bring to light the hidden things of darkness.”
The purpose of divine judgement is not to punish but to bring restoration and renewed life. It is to put away all that stands between God and ourselves. When we are in the presence of God who is perfection; all that is not perfect about us will become obvious. And all of it will be refined and cleansed away.
I love the image used by the prophet Malachi of the Lord being like the refiner’s fire and like fuller’s soap. Like one who burns away the dross in order to refine gold, God will burn away all the evil within us. Like one who uses harsh soap to clean a garment, God will bleach out the stains that sin leaves in us.
Refining gold and cleaning clothes seem like positive activities, but from the perspective of the metal and the clothing, the process holds the prospect of much pain. Apparently, when metals are being refined over fire there is hissing and spitting, steam and smoke, as the impurities are burned away. Likewise, meaningful renewal, life changing transformation, can only come through testing and cleansing.
And, despite our feelings or fears about the matter, this is actually good news! Sin separates us from God. Sin clouds and distorts the good creation God made us to be. So the process of being made new is the very process which restores us to our rightful relationship with God. It is also exactly the way in which we dedicate ourselves to the Lord; exactly the way in which we wait upon the Lord.
It struck me that the Lord is both the refiner and the refiner’s fire. It is the refining fire that brings precious metal to light. But being held in the hands of the refiner also tells us something about the high value placed on that which is being purified. We are precious in the sight of our Lord and Maker.
And not only that, I was told recently, that a refiner knows exactly the moment the metal reaches its’ purified state. It is the moment they can see themselves reflected in the molten metal.
Now isn’t that a beautiful image- for Candlemas; for Lent; for all time? Like refined and precious metals, we God’s people will emerge radiant at the end; to reflect the image of our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.