31 January 2010
10.30 Mattins Woodchurch
Rev’d Paul White
Readings 1 Cor. 13:1-13, Luke 2:22-40
May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
On Friday of this week I went up to London for the evening on the new fast train, for the first time. Although it was dark and we could not see how fast we were going, let me tell you that it was fabulous. We went from Ashford to Stratford in East London within 30 minutes and then onto St Pancras within another 10. When I was a student I lived in Finchley and I couldn’t get into Central London quicker than that on the Northern Line. If you haven’t tried the new train yet, let me tell you it is worth a go – even if you just go and look around St Pancras station, which evidently, has the longest Champagne bar in Europe although I have to admit that I didn’t measure it or even realise that these things were measured.
On Friday I also installed a new modem for my computer even though the old one was working fine. Why did I do that? Because, evidently, it has a better wireless range than my old one and, yes, it is supposed to be faster. The fact that it took me well over an hour to set up and that the increase in speed is probably measured in tenths of a second is neither here nor there. Like the high speed train service it is newer and faster and that is the main thing.
Sometimes it seems that the pace of life is getting faster everywhere. Communication and commerce is instant because of the internet, houses are thrown up left right and centre, traffic gets faster and so on and so forth. But we mustn’t make the easy mistake of saying that this is all bad and wouldn’t life be better if everything were kept slow – as I said the new fast train is fabulous and I have no doubt that it will do a lot to boost the economy of Ashford and the whole of East Kent.
However, from a Christian perspective, we ought to be on our guard that the cult of speed, the need for instant gratification and immediate results does not infect our spiritual life and our journey with and towards God. There is a considerable danger, and I know this because I have been there more than once myself, of thinking that if I just say the right prayer, if I sing the right song, if I worship in just the right way, if I read the right book or think the right thoughts or visit the right place then BAM I will have an epiphany moment with God and everything will be sorted on the spiritual front.
Today’s Gospel reading tells us the story of Christ being presented in the temple in Jerusalem, and of Simeon and Anna who had moments of epiphany that this little baby was the Christ child that had been promised by God. However their moments of epiphany were far from instant and I think that we can learn an awful lot from them.
Jesus had been taken to the temple by Mary and Jospeh because the law of Moses, in this case to be found in Leviticus 12, said that 8 days after a son was born he should be circumcised and 33 days after that the mother should go to a priest and offer a lamb as a burnt offering or, if she could not afford a lamb, she should take two doves or two pigeons. This was in order for the women to be purified from childbirth and there were echoes of that tradition in the churching of women which has fallen out of use here only relatively recently. The fact that Mary and Joseph took doves or pigeons and not a lamb tells us that they were not a wealthy family.
Whilst Mary. Joseph and Jesus are in the temple – and Jesus is a baby of about 6 weeks old at this point – they have two remarkable encounters with Simeon and Anna.
These two characters have a lot in common. First it seems that they were both well on in years. We are told that Anna had reached the incredible, unbelievable age of 84. Whilst we are not told Simeon’s age expressly we are certainly given the impression that he is on the verge of death and has been hanging on for this moment, by the grace of God. It says that God had promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah and, when he had seen Jesus, and given thanks to God, Simeon’s words, which will be familiar to us from the Nunc Dimitis are basically saying that he can now die in peace as he has seen the Christ:
“Master you are now 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.”
Simeon can die happy knowing that he has seen the one promised by God. So, not only does it sound as though Simeon is well on in years but it also sounds as though this moment has been a long time coming.
As it has too for Anna. Anna was known as a prophetess and she had spent many years living in the temple precincts, worshipping God, praying and fasting. She did not give up chocolate for lent and say a quick prayer hoping for an instant revelation of God – we are talking about years of constant prayer and fasting and worship before God’s plan, in the person of Jesus, was revealed to her. This is not quick fix spirituality.
But Simeon and Anna have one even more important thing in common then either their age or the fact that their whole lives seem to have been building up to this moment of epiphany in the temple. Both Simeon and Anna were blessed by the Holy Spirit –
“Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” Don’t forget that this was long before the baptism of Jesus when the Holy Spirit descended on Christ in the Jordan and even longer before Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the Church. The Holy Spirit rested on Simeon.
And we know that Anna is blessed by the Holy Spirit too as she is a prophetess and prophecy is one of the charismatic gifts of the Holy Spirit, as seen in 1 Corinthians 12.
But we also know that the Holy Spirit, who was with both Simeon and Anna, does not just give gifts such as the ability to prophecy, but that there are also fruits of a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit and these are listed in Galatians 5:22. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are these:
“love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”
When we think of the Holy Spirit it is too easy to concentrate on the flames of Pentecost, the speaking in tongues, and all the charismatic instant life transforming stuff which is so appealing to the speedy and instant fix world in which we live. Pentecostal transformation, conversion, epiphany feel like the fast train service to St Pancras and all that stuff exists and is to be celebrated. But today the story reminds us that a life lived in the spirit is also one of patience, gentleness, faithfulness. Simeon and Anna seemed to spend their whole lives exercising those fruits of the spirit and, when the time was right, God gave them and the world via them their moment of epiphany. Had they given up 20 years before then they would not have been in the temple to recognise and to welcome the Christ child when he came.
So, Sisters and Brothers in Christ, let us be joyful, let us be peaceful, let us be patient, let us be kind, let us be good, let us be faithful, let us be gentle and self-controlled and most of all let us love one another so that when Christ returns he shall find us watching and waiting.