Monday, 1 February 2016

Can't make it to church? 31 January 2016

Today is the day when the Nativity scene in our house gets put away. There are two 'right' times for this to happen, the Christmas stuff either gets put away on 'twelfth night' (the twelve days of Christmas beginning on Christmas Day) or on the day when we remember Mary going to the temple in Jerusalem for the rite of purification (which we call 'Candlemas' or 'the Purification'). As a child I can remember my Mother talking about being 'churched' some days after my birth; this happened in the chapel of Bart's Hospital. As a choir boy (yeah, honest, I was!) when bored (most weeks) during the service  would flick through the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) and read who I could and couldn't marry and wonder what the 'Churching of Women' bit was about.

It all comes from the instructions for 'purification after birth in Leviticus 12:

“Speak to the Israelites. Tell them, ‘Suppose a woman becomes pregnant and has a baby boy. Then she will be “unclean” for seven days. It is the same as when she is “unclean” during her monthly period. On the eighth day the boy must be circumcised. After that, the woman must wait for 33 days to be made pure from her bleeding. She must not touch anything sacred until the 33 days are over. During that time she must not go to the sacred tent. But suppose she has a baby girl. Then she will be “unclean” for two weeks. It is the same as during her period. After the two weeks, she must wait for 66 days to be made pure from her bleeding.  After she has waited the required number of days to be made pure, she must bring two offerings. She must take them to the priest at the entrance to the tent of meeting. She must bring a lamb a year old for a burnt offering. She must also bring a young pigeon or a dove for a sin offering.  The priest must offer them to the Lord. They will pay for her sin. Then she will be “clean” from her bleeding. 

'These are the rules for a woman who has a baby boy or girl.But suppose she can’t afford a lamb. Then she must bring two doves or two young pigeons. One is for a burnt offering. The other is for a sin offering. The priest will sacrifice those offerings. That will pay for her sin. And she will be “clean.” ’ "

So the prime reason for Joseph, Mary and Jesus being at the temple is clear, but there is an added dimension in that we find God incarnate entering the temple that exists to worship Him. This is the fulfilment of prophecy as 'God enters His house'. (Can you imagine the announcement over the PA? "Ladies and gentlemen, God has entered the building!")

Simeon and Ann are the means by which Jesus is recognised, the former in the words of the Nunc Dimittis (Lord, now let your servant depart in peace) which is Simeon's attestation that in Jesus he has had the Christ revealed to him - the end of Epiphany results in one last epiphany for Simeon and also for Anna; whose words we know little of other than the 'rising and falling of many and the wound that Mary's heart that will suffer'. We began Epiphany with Jesus being revealed to the Magi, we end with Him being revealed to two faithful believers who were looking to, and hoping for, God's redemptive plan to be put into action. In Jesus, the Christ, it is.

We also call today 'Candlemas' because traditionally it was a day when the candles were blessed.

As we read the Hebrews passage we find the bit from just before the passage (which would have been helpful) is missing. So here it is - with Jesus quoting Isaiah 8 (v18): 'And again he says, “Here I am. Here are the children God has given me.” '

They are flesh and blood and so too has Jesus - who 'became like them to die for them (us)'. God becomes man (that's who Anna and Simeon see) and does so to die for us. This is the plan to reconcile us to God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) Jesus, in dying and rising from the dead breaks the power of death, which is the penalty for sin, and in doing so removes all the power that satan has and takes control of his kingdom. This is the place where we understand what the power of the cross truly is!

The Malachi passage adds to the equation the warning that along with the redemption of humanity from the kingdom of death (which was satan's domain) there will also be a judgement. Now this isn't popular and I know many of my colleagues preach that this is not to be believed (because they find it distasteful and unpopular) but 'when He appears' (at the second coming) I can't help think that this is part of the expectation we should have. Don't like the prospect of it? Then we all better get working at the way we live and treat others hadn't we?

Sorry if this spoils the party today should be! Perhaps we need to be transformed then:

The Collect
God of heaven, you send the gospel to the ends of the earth and your messengers to every nation:
send your Holy Spirit to transform us by the good news of everlasting life in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Malachi 3.1-5
The Lord who rules over all says, “I will send my messenger. He will prepare my way for me. Then suddenly the Lord you are looking for will come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant will come. He is the one you long for.” But who can live through the day when he comes? Who will be left standing when he appears? He will be like a fire that makes things pure. He will be like soap that makes things clean. He will act like one who makes silver pure. And he will purify the Levites, just as gold and silver are purified with fire. Then these men will bring proper offerings to the Lord. And the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to him. It will be as it was in days and years gone by.

“So I will come and put you on trial. I will be quick to bring charges against all of you,” says the Lord who rules over all. “I will bring charges against you sinful people who do not have any respect for me. That includes those who practice evil magic. It includes those who commit adultery and those who tell lies in court. It includes those who cheat workers out of their pay. It includes those who treat widows badly. It also includes those who mistreat children whose fathers have died. And it includes those who take away the rights of outsiders in the courts.

Hebrews 2.14-18
Those children have bodies made out of flesh and blood. So Jesus became human like them in order to die for them. By doing this, he could break the power of the devil. The devil is the one who rules over the kingdom of death. Jesus could set people free who were afraid of death. All their lives they were held as slaves by that fear. It is certainly Abraham’s children that he helps. He doesn’t help angels. So he had to be made like people, fully human in every way. Then he could serve God as a kind and faithful high priest. And then he could pay for the sins of the people by dying for them. He himself suffered when he was tempted. Now he is able to help others who are being tempted.

Luke 2:22 - 40
The time came for making Mary “clean” as required by the Law of Moses. So Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem. There they presented him to the Lord. In the Law of the Lord it says, “The first boy born in every family must be set apart for the Lord.” They also offered a sacrifice. They did it in keeping with the Law, which says, “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

In Jerusalem there was a man named Simeon. He was a good and godly man. He was waiting for God’s promise to Israel to come true. The Holy Spirit was with him. The Spirit had told Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. The Spirit led him into the temple courtyard. Then Jesus’ parents brought the child in. They came to do for him what the Law required.  Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,
“Lord, you are the King over all.  Now let me, your servant, go in peace. That is what you promised. My eyes have seen your salvation.  You have prepared it in the sight of all nations. It is a light to be given to the Gentiles. It will be the glory of your people Israel.”

The child’s father and mother were amazed at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them. He said to Mary, Jesus’ mother, “This child is going to cause many people in Israel to fall and to rise. God has sent him. But many will speak against him. The thoughts of many hearts will be known. A sword will wound your own soul too.”  There was also a prophet named Anna. She was the daughter of Penuel from the tribe of Asher. Anna was very old. After getting married, she lived with her husband seven years. Then she was a widow until she was 84. She never left the temple. She worshiped night and day, praying and going without food. Anna came up to Jesus’ family at that moment. She gave thanks to God. And she spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the time when Jerusalem would be set free.

Joseph and Mary did everything the Law of the Lord required. Then they returned to Galilee. They went to their own town of Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong. He was very wise. He was blessed by God’s grace.

Post Communion Prayer 
Lord, you fulfilled the hope of Simeon and Anna, who lived to welcome the Messiah: may we, who have received these gifts beyond words, prepare to meet Christ Jesus when he comes to bring us to eternal life; for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever. Amen.


Anonymous said...

"Can't make it to church? 31 December 2016" ??

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Well done - you spotted it!

(wish I had - not sure how that happened :-))