The Presentation of our Lord — Rev. Karen Barfield

Psalm 84
Luke 2:22-40

In the name of the one, holy and living God. Amen.

Here in this holy place
we are safe to rest for a while.
For palpable is the movement of the Holy Spirit among us.

We gather today in the loving embrace of the Triune God:
confident in God’s care of us —
the God who nourishes us out of [Her] goodness,
who leads us like a Shepherd to the true and living waters,
and who teaches us to love through [Her] everlasting love.

Surely it is God who saves us…
we will trust in Him and not be afraid.

How often do we stop long enough to rest for a while in God’s loving embrace, confident in God’s care for us?

Yesterday at a funeral as I was ushered into the holy presence of God through these words spoken by Clarke French, I immediately thought of Simeon and Anna.

Simeon was a righteous and devout man, looking forward to the consolation of Israel.

The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah.

Guided by that Spirit, he came into the temple and there saw Jesus and immediately knew that he was the Lord’s Messiah… this baby boy, 40 days old, not yet old enough to accomplish anything,
who appeared to anyone else as simply another firstborn male to be designated holy to the Lord.

But, Simeon recognized this child, saying,

Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel. (Lk 2:29-32)

And then there was Anna… a prophet who never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer day and night.

As soon as she saw this child Jesus, she too began to praise God, for she knew that Jesus was the one to be the redemption of Jerusalem.

As these two waited on God, they were attentive to God’s presence wherever it might arrive: on the street or in the temple.

They were both waiting with patient hope in a world where suffering had become a way of life.

I thought, too, of the images of today’s psalmist:

The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young;
by the side of your altars, O LORD of hosts,
my King and my God.

Happy are they who dwell in your house!
They will always be praising you.

Happy are the people whose strength is in you!
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.

Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs,
For the early rains have covered it with pools of water. (Ps 84:2-5)

The small and fragile, the broken and broken-hearted will find shelter and rest and hope and refreshment with God.

So, how do we wait upon the LORD?

How do we place ourselves in the presence of God?

How are we attentive to the movement of the Spirit?

As I read the great spiritual writers of the centuries, one thing comes clear:

we must put ourselves aside.

We must “clear the deck” as it were,letting go of our need to control where and who we think God is.

Who expected the Messiah to show up to unknown parents, not royalty,
wrapped in bands of cloth, not purple gowns,
taking his first night’s sleep in a feeding trough?!

Who was looking for the Messiah to be presented in the temple along with the least of the acceptable sacrifices?

Who expected the Messiah to grow up and wander on foot from town to town, relying on the hospitality of others to provide for him?

Who expected the Messiah to be stripped and beaten and mocked and scourged and then crucified on a cross until he took his last breath?

This could not be the consolation of Israel.
Not this one.

We must, at some point, put aside our words and our images and our expectations and our desires and our fears… we must set them aside so that we may be still and watch and wait.

In the words of the antiphon during Compline when we too reflect these words of Simeon’s:

Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping;
that awake we may watch with Christ
and asleep we may rest in peace.

In our waking and in our sleeping we rest in God and are guided by the Spirit.

We wait and listen for God in our worship, but unless, at some point, we let go of words, we may miss hearing the very voice of God.

We look and listen for God’s presence in those we meet: at work, on the streets, in our families or community, in our classes.

God is there.
But we must be attentive and present, focusing completely on the other.
We might just be surprised!

God was doing an unexpected thing in Jesus,
and most people missed it!

Many of the religious faithful had their preconceived notions of who the Messiah was to be, so when Jesus acted differently, they missed it — or dismissed it.

They failed to be open to God’s agenda, which turned out to be that Jesus was the consolation of any who would listen, not just the consolation of Israel.

Simeon and Anna got it because they waited and watched and listened and were open to the movement of God in their midst. And they waited expectantly, not knowing exactly where or when God-incarnate would appear.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. (Jn 1:1-5)

Today we celebrate Candlemas… the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple…the presentation of the Light who has overcome our darkness… the Light for revelation for the whole world.

In our baptism we are given a candle that we may bear the light of Christ to the world… that the darkness of the world may be overcome by the Christ borne in and through us.

As we go forth from this place:

May our lives burn with a flame that makes our vision clear,
our waiting patient
and filled with hope,
our hearts open to the world around us,
and our voices resonant with words that will ignite fire in others.

Amen.