St Michael and All Angels

Observatory, Cape Town

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 This great and beautiful festival of Candlemas points us both backwards and forwards in the Christian Year. It points us backwards towards Christmas and forwards to the season of Lent and Easter so soon to come upon us.
Backwards to Christmas because this marks the end of the Christmas season. Forty days after Christmas, the time for purification has come and the parents of Jesus came to the temple in Jerusalem to present their baby to the Lord. They came to offer the sacrifices on behalf of their first born child as required by the Law of Moses, to give thanks for the gift of a son.
St Luke tells not, as we might have expected, of the priests receiving the new-born baby, but of two old people. Simeon and Anna, delighted to recognize this child as the one they had looked for and longed for, that Israel itself had looked for and longed for, the Messiah, the Christ. Simeon, old, righteous and devout, was looking forward to the consolation of Israel, perhaps to the peace of Israel, perhaps to the freedom of Israel from the Roman yoke. The Holy Spirit rested on him and he was assured that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and uttered what we know as the Nunc Dimittis …’for mine eyes have seen they salvation.’
From this lovely song we can see how God has prepared for this moment, has designed it and brought everything together. Firstly this presentation recognizes that God has from the beginning planned for the restoration of his people, indeed for their salvation.
 Secondly, this salvation is for all people, a light of revelation to the Gentiles; it is for us to whom this revelation, this light has come. That is why this morning we bear candles in recognition that the light of Christ has shone upon us and, by his grace, in us, and can shine from us. 
Thirdly, it also reflects back on God’s ancient people, the people he has cherished as his own from the earliest days, and the people who by their recognition of God and their obedience to him have made all this possible. For all people who have longed for God; glory to your people Israel.
The Song of Simeon gloriously brings together the ideas expressed in St Luke; First God’s preparation, planning for the moment: secondly, access for the Gentiles, as in the Epiphany to the Wise Men, and thirdly access to the simple religious folk of God’s community, as in the first worshippers of the Christ Child, the rough simple shepherds from the hillsides. Thus we look backward to Christmas today and complete its wonderful narrative.
But it is not all about a backward glance; today encourages, nay impels us forward through Lent to the solemnity and wonder of Holy Week and Easter. To grasp the connection between this holy feast of Candlemas and the momentous events of the Christian Pasch in Holy Week and Easter we need to think for a moment about the principal purpose for which the parents have brought the child to the temple. It is to redeem him, to offer sacrifice to the Lord. Tradition steeped in history of the OT; the sacrifice of Abraham’s beloved son, Isaac, saved by the angel of the Lord, and a ram caught in thicket sacrificed instead.
All that was to be abolished for us Christians, for redemption for us was to come not from sacrifice of bulls and goats. Our redemption is to come from the sacrifice of Jesus the Messiah, the ultimate sacrifice in the cross, the one oblation of himself once offered, ‘the full, perfect and sufficient, sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.’ 
Just as at Christmas, God sent his only begotten Son into the world for the salvation of all, and for the impact that was to have on our lives, so too the story of our redemption is only complete and fulfilled as we stand at the foot of the cross; the story then is complete, when in the fullness of time, from that we come to the glory of heaven.
In the meantime, as we remember the candles in our hands, representing the light of Christ shining in the dark places of this world, the light or the darkness could not overcome or overwhelm, so we recall our own responsibility to be with Christ and our ability in the power of the Holy Spirit to be both light and redemption for the world. That we can be, if we live faithfully with Christ, as we leave the altar rail today, we will have seen and tasted the promised future. Taking bread and wine to our lips, we will have held the Christ child. With words and music we will have proclaimed his presence. We may get all the way to his future ourselves, not in this life, BUT WE WILL HAVE SEEN IT, MY DEARS, and that’s enough. We can go in peace now – FOR MINE EYES HAVE SEEN.


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