The Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Sunday 3 February
Faith, Hope, Charity ©Ann Edwards
Lord God, the source of truth, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable always in your sight. May you open our ears to your prophets and to your beloved Jesus Christ. Amen
I am so pleased to be joining you today, especially this Candlemas, where we celebrate Christ’s presentation in the temple, and remember with candles that this infant would be the light of revelation for all people, for Israel and beyond.
Imagine yourself watching as Mary and Joseph presented Jesus at the temple that day.
Simeon and Anna, two everyday people, recognised the significance of this moment and shared the news. Simeon, was a well-respected faithful man, who yearned for the end of the oppression of his people. Anna, a widow, was the most oppressed of these oppressed people. Luke gives us both their stories to show just how far this light was to travel – to men and women, respected and rejected, comfortable and poor. Together, Anna and Simeon are models to us of faith, hope, and charity.
Simeon and Anna were people of astonishing Faith. Simeon was known as being righteous and devout. Likewise, Anna was an exemplar of faithfulness, and was well-known for fasting and praying night and day after the death of her husband. These people believed in God to the depths of their beings, they believed in a God that saw them and would listen to them. Anna and Simeon were everyday prophets, that sought God, and trusted that God would console them. It was from this faith that hope arose.
Simeon was also known for his hopefulness. The author of Luke knew that Simeon had been received God’s promise that he would see the Messiah. Springing from his confidence in and relationship with God, Simeon was hopeful that Israel, this people oppressed by the brutality of Rome, would be consoled.
As a widow, Anna suffered even more than the average Israelite. She had no power or independence. And yet Anna is the embodiment of hope. Without hope, she would not have sustained what must have been a six-decade protest of prayer and fasting in the temple. She had faith that God was there, that God saw her, and heard her, and that God cared. She held hope that God would respond. And she wasn’t afraid to hold God to that promise.
Both Anna and Simeon held out hope that things could be different, that things could be made right, and that God wanted things to be right. This hope was not blind denial of their circumstances, but was grounded in the promise of a God that saw them and loved them.
And wasn’t their Faith and Hope justified? God answered in the most surprising way: God sent a child from a family in poverty. It’s not exactly the rescue mission or neat ending that Hollywood would write, but God’s work is no fairy tale. Anna and Simeon were seeking justice and freedom and now there was work to be done.
The word charity has really become dilute today – it’s almost inseparable from the idea of gifting some money to a some distant cause. And while that’s good, that is only a small example of Charity. Charity is the entirety of the Christian call to action, the work that stems from relationship with God.
Charity is at the centre of our call. It’s centred in our relationship with God, it’s personal, it springs from faith, and it’s hopeful for real change. In the mess of our human existence, it’s Charity that gets in amongst it, that listens for God’s word, and acts in response to put things right.
Consider Simeon’s blessing. He trusted God’s response and blessed the child Jesus. There was, however, no blind optimism, but instead a realistic assessment for the future. As a parent, Simeon’s blessing is not something I’d wish for my child or for me – This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too. They’re hard words, but Simeon had the wisdom to accept God’s response, and more importantly, the charity to prepare Mary and Joseph for what was to come; their child was from God and bring about what was right and was good, and would also bring conflict, and would experience suffering, rejection and pain. Simeon saw the parents in front of him, with their beloved child, and spoke God’s words to prepare them as best he could.
In Jesus, Anna saw that her protest had been seen and heard and she didn’t miss a beat.
After decades, she praises God and leaves her post of prayer and fasting and tells everyone that is hoping for the redemption of Jerusalem about this child – and in telling everyone, we can assume she finally left the temple.
This was the time to end protesting and start sharing the good news, knowing that God was responding. Anna testified that God had sent this child, and encouraged those who had been hoping and working for redemption to keep going, because help was on the way. Imagine seeing this woman that had never left the temple in your lifetime, on the streets, in joy telling you about a child. You’d have to wonder at the extraordinary shift from lament, to praise and proclamation. God may not have made Anna’s personal situation different, but Anna recognised something was happening that was even more wonderful.
Charity – partnering with God in the highest form of love – springs from the reciprocal relationship between the divine and humanity. Charity is action, a personal participation in Christ’s work, driven by the spirit and God’s love. In faith, hope and love and charity – Anna and Simeon heralded and participated in the work of Christ to come.
Charity is still needed today, and we can look to Anna, to Mary and Joseph, and to Simeon to show us how.
I have been thinking a lot about Greta Thunberg, and I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about her too. She’s the young climate change activist, who although she has just turned 16, has the world’s attention. Greta’s message speaks from the faith she holds in the truth of science, and there are important parallels with our call to be God’s truth speakers. It’s not so much her message that I want to talk about today, but her journey.
In describing her journey, Greta talks about learning about climate change as a young child of 8 or 9. The more she learned, the more she became concerned, which resulted in a crippling despair that led her parents to seek help for her, at just 11 years of age. She describes that time:
I stopped talking. I stopped eating. In two months, I lost about ten kilos of weight. Later on I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, OCD, and selective mutism—that basically means I only speak when I think it’s necessary.
As a parent of a child with autism, I have been thinking about Greta Thunberg’s parents. Their clever, beautiful 11-year-old child learned about climate change and entered such a period of despair that she would not eat and would not talk. She lost ten kilograms from her tiny frame. She was diagnosed with autism. She had no hope.
If your 11-year-old stopped eating and talking as a result of despair what would you think? What would you say to them, what would you hope for them, how would you love them and support them?
I’m really not sure what Greta’s parents said or did. We know they arranged the best possible medical help. And it seems that they also guided Greta to have hope that things could be different, that action could change things, that speaking out was the right thing to do.
We know this because Greta tells us that she only speaks when she thinks it’s necessary. She also tells us that Now is one of those moments.
As Anna protested the injustice of her situation, so Greta left her silence. As Greta grew in conviction and hope, she began to protest more powerfully, in a way that must have been supported by her parents.
Like Mary and Joseph 2000 years earlier, Greta’s parents must have been navigating a sea of shock and fear and worry. What on earth would become of their child? And with that in mind, I wonder what it was Greta’s parents said, what they did in the next four years, because at 15, Greta began to protest, a sure sign of hope. Her solo protest, forgoing school and sitting on the steps of Sweden’s parliament, caught the attention of children worldwide, who responded in kind. The hope was spreading.
And Greta’s parents could have stopped her, the first day of that protest on those steps at parliament. I think I might well have stopped her.
My temptation would be to placate – to suggest that it wasn’t necessary, that things were in hand, that everything would be ok. But this type of hope is empty. In Greta’s words:
Yes, we do need hope—of course, we do. But the one thing we need more than hope is action. Once we start to act, hope is everywhere.
Hope is only good when it is embedded in faith and inspires action and charity. When people act in Charity, hope is everywhere. We need all three elements to participate in the work of Christ.
This Candlemas – we follow Anna and Simeon in faith, taking God’s light into the world. Let’s remember that God’s light shows the inner thoughts of many, illuminates protest, demands justice, and calls us all to work together in charity.
Let us pray: loving God, embolden our community to encourage one another in truth to speak your word, for the good of the world, to put things right for the creation you love. Amen