Sermon for THE PRESENTATION OF CHRIST IN THE TEMPLE – Procession & High Mass Monday 2 February 2015
Sermon preached by Fr Will Lamb, Vice-Principal of Westcott House
I want to invite you to think about Simeon. He’s a rather distant figure in Luke’s Gospel. He appears just the once, makes this grand gesture in the temple, hailing this small baby as the light of the gentiles (no doubt much to the consternation of Mary and Joseph) and having uttered these words of prophecy, he disappears.
The reader of Luke carries on and I suppose we don’t think about Simeon too much. There’s too much else going on. And yet we know that Simeon has waited for this event for his whole life. Every day of his life he has come to the temple, to greet the Messiah. And most of those days, he will have gone home disappointed.
But still Simeon returns to the temple “Is today the day when I will see the Messiah, the one chosen by God to bring healing to the nations?”
Simeon’s whole life speaks to us about the power and resilience of faith and trust. Like most of us, Simeon will have encountered disappointment and difficulty in his life but he carries on trusting in God, trusting that God’s promises would be fulfilled.
Most of us do not find it easy to trust others, particularly when that trust has been betrayed, an act of good faith has been abused. Faith does not always come easily to us. Much easier to take the approach of seasoned cynicism – much safer that way – fewer disappointments, even if our hearts are eaten up by bitterness in the process.
But God invites us to live by faith. St. Paul says that if you have faith strong enough, you can move mountains. He doesn’t say anything about where you’re supposed to put them, but learning to trust in God and to trust in one another helps our confidence to grow and our relationships to flourish. Marriage, friendship, the life of the church, are all grounded in trust and faith.
And if we should ever wonder how any human being could be trusted, look at the way in which God trusts us. A young family arrives in Jerusalem, full of joy at the birth of a new baby, and Simeon tells Mary and Joseph that in this small child, God’s promises will be fulfilled. In other words, Mary and Joseph are entrusted with the mystery of salvation. Without their faith, love and co-operation, the story of Jesus would not have unfolded as it did.
It is worth reflecting on the role of Mary in all this. Mary acts in faith, in spite of the disgrace that might well have rained down upon her. At the annunciation, she simply says ‘Yes’ to the angel. At Westcott House, we sing at the end of Compline an ancient Hymn to the Theotokos, the God-Bearer, Mary, which says this:
‘You have beheld the King in his beauty, Mary, daughter of Israel. You have made answer for the creation,
To the redeeming will of God’.
Mary’s ‘Yes’ is echoed throughout the whole of creation, it is echoed in our ‘Yes’ to God. And yet, Mary is also told that a sword will pierce her soul also. And this is difficult. Faith does not provide immunity from hurt or suffering. We will continue to bear the wounds of human experience and the consequences of human sin, even our own sin. And yet, we also know that the deadliness of all this hurt and suffering will be transformed by Christ’s risen life.
And the remarkable thing is that in spite of all this, God trusts us. And Mary’s witness reminds us that if God has such faith in us that he is willing to trust us with something as great as the mystery of salvation, then perhaps we can find it in our hearts to trust each other with the littler things. No doubt just like Simeon we will encounter disappointments along the way, but like Simeon, our faith, however precarious it may be at times, must be grounded in the conviction that God is faithful. God has entrusted so much to us – can we find it in our hearts to trust in him?