Sunday Sermons

Epiphany 4: Feast of the Presentation of Christ

I wonder how many of you woke up this morning and thought .. great it’s the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple today and the end of Epiphany season. And then went on to ask someone over the breakfast table why it is that this celebration in the Church is sometimes called Candlemass!
I want to talk this morning about the importance of this kind of approach to the Christian life and to Church going .. engaging with the Church calendar .. because I want to talk about the importance of anticipation in the Christian, life indeed in human experience.
To me the gift of ‘anticipation’ it is an important part of what the Church offers modern society. In a society where instant gratification is acceptable we present a lifestyle and an approach to life which sees the benefits of waiting .. waiting and anticipating is at the very heart of our Faith. If it’s not we have lost our way.
Let us consider to begin with the notion of a prophetic element to our faith! Our first reading today comes from the book of Malachi. The very fact that we have an Old Testament suggests our faith has its roots in a forward looking, anticipatory kind of religion. The Old Testament is built on expectation and anticipation of a time when God would send a Messiah to deliver His people. And at the heart of this Old Testament are a large number of prophetic books .. looking forward in a very concrete way to this messianic future.
Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament and the writer is one of the minor prophets .. but the timing and nature of his message is such that it is the most anticipatory of books. In fact after Malachi writes his prophecy we must wait 400 years (what are sometimes known as the ‘silent years’) before Jesus appears in Bethlehem to fulfil the promises , to end the anticipation, and it is into this Jewish world of anticipation and expectation that he is born.
Anticipation is an integral feature of the Bible and in particular that waiting period for the promised Messiah which identifies our Old and New testaments.
And so the New Testament passage which we read today reflects this important feature of a life of faith .. it introduces 2 people who have been longing, waiting, anticipating this event. A man, and a woman, who have spent their lives waiting, anticipating
We also have a faith which has waiting and anticipating at its core. We await a time when the promise of Malachi is realised in full .. a time of purification of this world .. of refining of all that seems like dross to us. Do you look forward to that time. Are you an anticipator because that is what it means to be Christian.
The New Testament reveals to us how the fulfilment of hope brings peace and gratitude in the hearts of those who have been waiting, longing, hoping. Indeed without waiting and longing there is no real sense of gratitude or any real value in what we receive. This is a material truth about the human condition and not an abstract spiritual message. The ability to wait – to anticipate – is what makes us human in many ways..
I read a book recently called ‘why we run’ which suggested that as humans our ability to survive in a world of predators and prey was our capacity to wait, to anticipate where and when of our prey or predator would give up. To anticipate and project is fully human and God given! How then do we create this sense of anticipation in our lives? How do we become those who will know the deep peace and gratitude of a hope deferred being finally realised?
Well I think part of this is by keeping up with the Church calendar! That seems like a very dry answer to a very juicy question. The idea that the Church calendar is a means of breathing into our lives a sense of faith and hope. But I believe it is so.
After all the church year builds anticipation into its people. We have the days of Advent preparing, awaiting Christmas. We have the days of Lent leading up to Easter .. and at least some of us observe these times with a sense of commitment to creating a sense of expectation of what is to be celebrated!
But what of this season of Epiphany .. have we spent some of the last 40 days reflecting on ways in which God fulfils His promises in Christ. Have we engaged with the season in such a way as to have led to that sentiment I started the service with this morning .. great it’s the Feast of the Presentation of Christ at the Temple?
Perhaps I am asking a little too much. But it seems to me quite logical that the depth of celebration of our faith is created through anticipation. We will not be struck by the meaning of this celebration today unless we have reflected on what it means at a deeper level. We will not be filled with the peace and gratitude of Simeon and Anna unless we have shared in their waiting and anticipating.
I want to encourage you this morning to think about how you engage with the Christian calendar. To ask yourself how you are building cycles of anticipation and celebration into your life to keep alive that great sense of anticipation that drives our faith towards the most complete peace and gratitude when all things are made complete and all promises are fulfilled.
With the next important season in the Church calendar being Lent leading to the celebration of Easter I would encourage you to invest in a real way with the season of Lent in order that Easter might be a true moment of celebration for us here is this congregation.
We are holding some Lent studies which you will have received a flyer for with your service sheet. Have a think about whether you might commit to 5 weeks of waiting shared with a group of other waiters .. so that we can lift our heads as the Psalmist says .. lift our heads above the clamour and distraction of the immediate and look to the future with hope and anticipation.

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