The sum of all is that God the Lord of all, out of fervent love for his creation, handed over his own Son to death on the cross. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son for its sake.’ This was not because he could not have saved us in another way, but so that he might thereby the better indicate to us his surpassing love, so that, by the death of his only-begotten Son, he might bring us close to himself. Yes if he had anything more precious he would have given it to us so that our race might thereby be recovered. Because of his great love, he did not want to use compulsion on our freedom, although he would have been able to do so; but instead he chose that we should drawn near to him freely, by our own mind’s love.
St Isaac of Nineveh
Love along with forgiveness are at the heart of our faith, and they characterise our relationships both with each other and with God. The revelation of God in the person of Jesus Christ is the showing of God’s love, from the Annunciation, through the Incarnation, to His Death and Resurrection, there is not a moment which does not speak powerfully of love and forgiveness. Where Christ leads we should follow, he is the author and perfector of our faith. St Paul can speak to the Christians in Corinth of the centrality of love in the life of Christians. It shows how we are to live, to live in love, together. Christ shows us the cost and reality of self-giving love in His Death and Resurrection. This is the love we have to live in our lives: difficult, costly, and wonderful.
As the Church prepares to celebrate the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, also known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and commonly called Candlemas, it is fair to say that nowadays we are not quite so used to ideas of ritual purity inherent in the Thanksgiving for a Woman after Childbirth, which used to be described as the Churching of Women. It feels strange and alien. The Holy Family go to the Temple to give thanks to God and to comply with the Law: they demonstrate obedience, they listen to what God says and do it – as such they are a model for all Christian families to follow.
When they go to the Temple the Holy Family encounter Simeon, a man of faith and holiness, devoted to God, and looking for the consolation of Israel, he knows that he will not die until he sees the Messiah, the Lord’s Anointed, and the Saviour of the World. As he takes the child Jesus in his arms he prays ‘Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace : according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen : thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared : before the face of all people; To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.’ The promise made to him by, revealed through His Holy Spirit has been fulfilled in the six-week-old infant in his arms. As Christ was made manifest to the Gentiles at Epiphany, so now His saving message is proclaimed, so that the world may know that its salvation has come in the person of Jesus Christ. Simeon speaks to Our Lord’s Mother of her Son’s future, and the pain she will endure. Before he dies Simeon is looking to the Cross, the means by which our salvation is wrought, the Cross at which Mary will stand to see humanity freed from its sin through the love and mercy of God, through grace, the free gift of God in Christ. So as Candlemas concludes our Celebration of Christmas, of the mystery of the Incarnation, so to it points to that which gives it its true meaning: the Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
That is why we are here this morning, to be fed by Christ, to be fed with Christ, truly present in His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity – God whom we can touch and taste. A God who shares His Divine Life with us, so that we can be transformed by Him, built up as living stones as a temple to His Glory, given a foretaste of Heaven here on Earth. This is our soul’s true food, the bread for the journey of faith, a re-presentation of the sacrifice which sets us free to live for Him, to live with Him, through Him and in Him.
The significance of what is happening is not just recognised by Simeon, but also by Anna, a holy woman, a woman of prayer, a woman who is close to God – she to recognises what God is doing in Christ, and she proclaims it, so that God’s redemption of His people may be known. Let us be like her, and let all of our lives, everything which we say, or think, or do, proclaim the saving truth of God’s love to the world. Let us burn, with that same love in our lives, in all that we say, and think, or do, so that the world may believe and give glory to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, to whom be ascribed as is most right and just all might, majesty, glory, dominion, and power, now and forever.