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Simeon took him in his arms: A Sermon for Candlemas – Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

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Title“Simeon took him in his arms”

Preacher: Canon Victoria Johnson, Precentor

Date: On the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple  02.02.23 4.00pm

Readings: Hebrews 2:14-end, Luke 2:22-40

‘Simeon took him in his arms and praised God’.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

The old man carried the child, yet the child ruled the old man.

The old man carried the child, yet the child ruled the old man.

This beautiful sentence was traditionally used as an antiphon at the first evening service for the Feast of the Presentation, and it articulates the relationship between the child Jesus and the old man Simeon, creator and created.

It might look like Simeon is holding the child, that Simeon the elder has all the power and strength- and the child is weak and new in nature: but in an example of the divine dis-ordering of our human assumptions- the child is in fact upholding the ancient one and upholding the whole created order, the universe and all that is made.

When Simeon took the child in his arms, he was fully aware of this dynamic, for he was righteous and devout, and the Holy Spirit rested upon him. As he held this child, as he was praising this little being, he could see the fulfilment of God’s promises: salvation for all people, a light for the nations, he could see the glory of God there in his hands.

He had spent a lifetime preparing for this, and when the child was brought into the temple, he had eyes ready to see that God was indeed with him and with everyone. He saw that this little child was the one who would lead everyone into a Kingdom of peace, where the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the kid.

As Simeon sees the dawn of this new kingdom breaking in, he can now be released into eternal life. “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace,” he sings, “your word has been fulfilled.” He breathes a sigh of relief. Winter is over. Spring has come.

In the orthodox tradition, this elderly man, who had spent years and years in the temple waiting for the consolation of Israel, is called ‘Simeon the God receiver’.

Simeon and Anna the prophet had been anticipating this day for what seemed like an eternity, they were ready to meet God and receive God.

As Christians, we know who this child is and we too are called to hold this child of light in our hands, and in our hearts and on our lips- we are called to be God-receivers like Simeon was. But in this child, Simeon also sees suffering, betrayal, pain, and he sees that this child will cause division, no one will be able to hide from the purity that this child will bring, and the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.

To hold this child in our arms is a risk- it is to be seen in all of our murkiness as well as all of our magnificence. Courageous is the person and humble is the heart, which carries this child, and lets him be their king.

Like a beam of pure light, this child will expose sin, and hatred and injustice, human hearts will be opened, all desires will be known and no secrets hidden. Before this child we will be transformed, we will be changed, we will be made new.

Are we ready to receive him?  Are we ready to let this child rule over us? Are we ready to let this little child lead us, and expose our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, are we willing to carry this child in our arms when he becomes the man nailed to the hard wood of the cross, wearing a crown of thorns?

The old man carried the child, yet the child ruled the old man.

Beset by human pride and earthly glory, we often think we are the ones in control. We think we rule God. We think God conforms to our expectations and our wishes. How often do we fail to see God before us, because we doubt the ways in which God is revealed?

God in a child? God in the little, the lowly, the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, the excluded? Are we ready to be God-receivers when God is presented to us? What do we need to put down in order to pick up this child and receive God’s light? Power, money, status, pride, hatred, guilt? We have Lent to work some of this out.

The child seems to be saying: put all that down, hold me in your arms and let me uphold you for all eternity. All those other things that hold us and hold us back, disintegrate under the light of this baby.

This child of light sets us free from those heavy burdens that we carry in our arms, the things that we are held and enslaved by, even the fear of death itself.

We hold out our hands this evening to receive the light of Christ found in bread and wine and we receive consolation for all of our waiting:

To hold Christ in our arms, as Simeon did, is to be upheld by Christ and subject to his just and gentle rule.

To hold Christ in our arms, is to put our lives into his tiny hands.

To him be glory for ever, Amen.

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