This week we will celebrate an important event in the Epiphany season. It is on Wednesday we recall the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. The moment when Jesus is taken to the Temple by Mary and Joseph to follow the law given to Moses about purification. The child is presented in the Holy place and through the words and prophecies of Simeon and Anna the devoted Jewish worshippers it is revealed that Jesus will be the Messiah whom the Jews had been waiting for. And more than this the two elderly worshippers speak of a wider purpose for the Messiah .. not just to save Israel but the whole world. An important moment which begins to shift the perception of God’s salvation away from the Jewish people and to the whole world. As Simeon declares in what we now know as the nunc dimittis, the final words of many funerals ..
Now, Master, you let your servant go in peace. You have fulfilled your promise.
My own eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples.
A light to bring the Gentiles from darkness; the glory of your people Israel.
In this morning’s readings we encounter a further challenge in relation to this message. For what we find is people are not always willing to accept this message of salvation for all.
Let me ask you then in the context of the idea of Jesus being presented to the world .. how do we expect the Divine to be presented to us? Are we like Jeremiah who when receiving God’s message says .. surely not me Lord. I am too young to be important, Jeremiah says. What is our excuse I wonder. I am too old, or too broken, too angry or too uncertain about things. Are we able to receive God’s word to us without cynicism or critique or question I wonder?
Or think of the people in the Gospel reading to whom Jesus presents his message.It is not their condition but his which hinders their receiving the joy of being loved and saved by God. Prove yourself they say .. if you can save others save yourself. You are one of us .. how can you be of God too? In this context we must ask ourselves where do we expect God to present salvation in life? Do we reject the message of salvation because it comes in the context of this messy and imperfect vessel we call church? When people in our community think of our Gospel do they think .. how can they know God .. they’re just like us in their illnesses and anxieties and affairs .. they can’t even save themselves what do they know?
So the challenge of Epiphany, of uncovering the message of Christ after Christmas is so often in the fact that God is found in unexpected places .. in the Virgin with a Child, in the weirdo in the desert, in the repentant tax collector, the illiterate fisherman in the donkey or in the child. It seems in fact that pretty much anything can lead us to God because the whole earth is full of God’s glory. In astrology and the signs of the zodiac and the stars the men from the East came to God. In the scriptures the Jews found the message. In seeing angels the shepherds were called.
The truth is all we need to see God present in our world is to receive this message without prejudice and without cynicism. In fact we are told that unless we receive God in a childlike manner we will not receive the Divine at all.
What does it mean to receive a gift as a child?? A childlike reception of a gif seems to me to simply mean to receive it with enthusiasm and excitement and wholeheartedly. Is that how we receive the message that is unveiled to us in Epiphany?
Our faith requires that we receive that which is presented to us without being jaded or sceptical. We must avoid being like the crowd who heard Jesus message of salvation coming in human form .. those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff.
What a remarkable turn of events .. that words of hope and peace are met with anger and violence because they were not what was expected. And yet if we overcome our reservations about who we are and who Jesus is we like Jeremiah can do great things .. to build and to plant in the world through receiving what is presented to us in the life and person of Jesus. Let us not miss our chance to know God because God’s message is an unexpected one .. Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you;
We are known and loved by God .. it is an unexpected but profound truth for us to receive this morning.