Sermon for Choral Evensong & Benediction Tuesday 2 February 2016
Sermon preached by the Venerable John Hawkins, Archdeacon of Hampstead
Last week the world remembered the Liberation of Auschwitz and the need never to forget the full extent of humanities inhumanity that continues to shock, appall and inspire some 70 years on.
Whilst recalling the tragedy of the 1930’s, this year many recalled the setting up 70 years ago of the Kinder transport that took tens of thousands of Jewish children from the violence and oppression of Nazi Germany to the safety of English homes. It is sad that in this same week once again the language of our political leaders describing those who like many before them have fled persecution and war to seek sanctuary in this country betrays a deep fear of the other.
After the infamous attack by the Japanese on the Americans at Pearl Harbour, there was a downed Japanese airplane on one of the islands. A local resident put a bunch of flowers on it as a memorial. When asked by a reporter why she was honouring a deceased enemy, she replied, “Even he had a mother.”
After the Falklands War there was a furore cause by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, who insisted that during the service celebrating the victory for this country, prayers were offered for the enemy, in this case the dead of Argentina as well as the fallen of our own country.
When we are encouraged to regard others as our enemy, in the darkness of death and destruction there are times when our humanity wins through. Even in the depths of such despair and terror there are stories of love and affection that transcend the individuals themselves or the events that they find themselves part of and give us hope.
In 2011, as many cities in our country erupted in violence and looting a father called Tariq Jahan, in Birmingham who had seen his son, Haroon, killed by looters in a car went on to the streets and cried out: “I have lost my son, if you want to lose yours step forward, otherwise calm down”. No more life was lost that night in Birmingham.
There are times when the bond between parent and child, or strangers confronted with violence and death or that of our shared humanity transcend, over come and inspire. So too with God, and the bond that lies between our creator and ourselves, though sore stretched it is never completely broken and because of this bond the story of life continues. The Gospel stories are a reminder of this powerful bond, of this love, a Love that will not let me go…
Today we are celebrating the day when Jesus is brought into the temple by His parents to consecrate Him to the service of His heavenly Father. A day when the bond between God and his people is once again acknowledged, affirm and celebrated. A day when the promise of glory is made by an aging widow and the prophesy of Calvary is given by a priest who has seen too much. It’s a powerful image. The scriptures are unfolding as the Eternal Word – as a human infant – is brought into His Temple.
Mary and Joseph bring the most precious gift that they have in the world to God and ask for God to bless this gift, for all life is a gift from God. This evening as we take time in this Mass, as we bring our lives to meet with Jesus here in the sacrament of bread and wine I wonder what precious gift you have that you would like God to bless today?
When God blesses he multiplies, his blessing is one that bring peace where there is ear, brings strength where there is weakness, brings reconciliation where there is enmity. It only needs for us, like Joseph and Mary who went before us, to be obedient to God and bring ourselves, our lives and the gifts that God has given us and offer them to him: ask him to bless them.
Candlemass, the feast of the presentation is a Reminder of Christianity’s Jewish roots. Here the parents of Jesus show their obedience to the Law of Moses and present their first born to God at the temple. They do so at a time of deep sadness for the people of God as they are a broken and occupied nation, one where there is a deep and profound hope that God will once again take pity on his children and send them a Messiah, a Saviour to give them life once again, as he promised long ago.
As with the feast of Jesus’ circumcision a month ago, so now with the feast of the presentation the gospel writers are reminding us that obedience and faithfulness lie at the root of our understanding of God and form the very bond that binds us with God.
The Christmas Story, which we will now leave for another year, begins with the annunciation, Mary being obedient to the message of an angel. It continues with Mary and Joseph being obedient to their visions from God that although the situation they find themselves in is hard to understand and is most unlikely – YET God will work with this and bring his purpose to fruition by their obedience.
But of course it is not blind obedience, nor for that matter blind faith that Mary and Joseph, or Simeon and Anna demonstrate. To walk hand in hand with God requires obedience and faithfulness. The one informs the other and so leads us to God.
When we look at Simeon and Anna we see two people waiting upon the Lord.
Simeon and Anna represent the hopes and expectations of all faithful and obedient Jews, at a time when all around them are signs that God has forsaken them, when all that they see is the might of an empire oppressing them and denying them their freedom. They were looking forward to the restoration of God’s rule in Israel – the re-establishment of that bond between God and his people promised long ago.
What ever trial we face today, what ever the fear that is being named, there is one who will give us life. When the future looks uncertain or worse is only defined by despair and failure, let us look with the eyes of old Simeon and Anna, to this child who is a light to lighten the nations and the glory of his people.
Let us pray to see Jesus not as a remote or distant figure, far from us but in our very midst. And acknowledge that if we remain obedient and faithful to him then Our eyes will see his salvation which has been prepared before the face of all people
And ours will be the light that will enlighten the world and his chosen people.
O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.