How do we keep believing, while living in a world which seems such a mess at times? How do we keep trusting in God when we see so much suffering, and so much trouble? So much of what God does not want in our world?
May I speak in the name of God who is, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.
Now most of us hate waiting. We hate waiting at the traffic lights or queues, especially at the moment with the inconvenience for the road works and taking down of a certain bridge or is it building. I can’t remember which one it is.
It’s what sorry? unclear from congregation
Anyway, making every journey car journey even longer and frustrating.
We hate waiting to be served in shops, for buses, or we hate waiting for trains, or to be seen by the doctor. And some of you here might have been waiting for us to depart from the European Union. But perhaps that’s enough of that today. The list goes on. Then there is that waiting for those moments in our lives which we think will improve on what we already have a move, a job change, a new addition to the family be to a pet or person.
I suppose you coul d call this waiting, waiting in anticipation. But not always do we know when and how these transitions will happen. And until that time, we possibly fantasise about them, and may not actually really understand or know what we want or need in life.
In today’s Gospel there are people who have been waiting, but they knew exactly what they wanted. And what’s more where content to wait. There was no frustration they just waited patiently. One was a man called Simeon. And although we do not know how long he had waited, his desire was to see the Messiah before he died. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit promised it would happen. We know that Simeon was an old man. And this words known as the Nunc Dimittis in Latin meaning to dismiss, dismiss, which you heard in the Gospel reading, and will be read at the end of the service; speak of someone who has been waiting a long time.
It speaks of someone who has been filled with anticipation, and is now filled with long awaited joy as he takes the infant Jesus into his arms and praises God recognising him to be the one he had been waiting for. And so Simeon’s words echo through the centuries. He says that God has kept his promises and he can now die in peace. I have seen your salvation, a light to reveal your will to the Gentiles and bring glory to your people Israel.
These words are usually used daily in the Church of England for night prayer, as people seek to go to bed in peace in hope. These words also are used regularly in the Church of England as people come to the end of their lives. And indeed, as I lead the coffin out of the church at a funeral service, I say these words. But Simeon also speaks words of warning to Mary the mother of Jesus, and tells her that while this child will indeed bring fulfilment of hope to the people, this hope will not be without cost. Many would not receive Jesus as the Messiah and would actually reject Him and violently reject Him. This warning points to the suffering that Christ would have to endure on our behalf. Suffering that Christ’s followers would also have to endure as they seek to take up their crosses and follow Him.
Mary would indeed suffer in the long term as she saw her child grow up, and then suffer horrible death on the cross. And we too, as followers of Christ today will suffer as we seek to follow in his footsteps. The problem for many, if not all of us, is that we have waited for God’s promises to be fulfilled, and have at times been disappointed when we think they haven’t. When actually it may simply be because we are not paying attention, or because we don’t have eyes and hearts like Simeon’s prepared to see God work in unexpected places,
and at unexpected times. Or maybe we don’t see it because we are more comfortable in the waiting than in and in the uncertainty of what comes after. I think that is very true in the life of a church, especially when we are challenged and not just to sit in our pews or seats and wait for people to come into our churches. But to actively show the love of God and invite them to join us in worship. Even though we might get a very negative response.
The people of Israel had waited several centuries for the coming of the Messiah. Just how long would we wait and hope, a week, a year, a lifetime. In St. Paul’s letters, the Hebrews he says to have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain other things we cannot see. And we are people of faith. We are people of hope, although too often we completely forget that Because we give up too easily when the going gets tough when our faith is tested, waiting in hope is not a passive thing like waiting at the bus stop, or in a doctor surgery, maybe just wiling away time reading the paper or watching the world go by. Waiting in hope is an active thing. Like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, or the watchmen waiting on the city walls. Waiting in hope requires determination and perseverance, even through suffering, perhaps especially through suffering.
The second person in the Gospel reading who was waiting was Anna. She never left the temple but waited in hope day and night, worshipping God fasting and praying. When she saw the child Jesus she gave thanks to God for hope fulfilled.
So I ask how do we keep believing, while living in a world which seems such a mess at times? How do we keep trusting in God when we see so much suffering, and so much trouble? So much of what God does not want in our world? It is difficult when all around we see walls hate and people horrible to each other. And that’s just the church. There are horrible things going on in our church, in our work situations and family situations. How do we wait in hope in all this? We will no doubt be tempted to think like so many of those around us: that God is not here, that Jesus is not going to return, that faith is rubbish and just not true. Simeon and Anna would have faced similar temptations, but they waited in hope, despite what they faced day by day, as they endured occupation by a foreign ruler. As they were subject to the Roman rule, no doubt they would have been tempted to think that God was not there that the Messiah would not come.
Perhaps we all tend to focus on the negative side of faith and fail to see salvation, glory, and the peace that surrounds us — more about peace in Lent, as it is one of the 5p’s that I will be talking about. And then what’s more, we give up on hope. It’s about time to actually look at the times when we ourselves encounter hope as a community of faithful people. I believe these times when we sit down and talk to people we know or perhaps don’t know, over a cup of coffee, being awarded the Eco Silver award for our contribution to caring for God’s world. When we help elderly and infirm people come to church and see them home safely. We see hope when we talk to parents who come into this building on a Wednesday to join in with crafts. We see hope when we visit the sick, the bereaved, or when someone just simply wants to know that their life is valued by God. And in church, there is also hope in listening to music and singing songs and being lifted up or calmed down; in offering money; and giving thanks that God’s Church will be supported and others will be blessed. In coming up to the sanctuary of this church for the first time, or the umpteenth time and understanding the others alongside as a part of the comforting challenging, believing, doubting Family of God all around us today. And in the days of this coming week, there are signs of salvation and hope. But how often do we see or believe that they are there? candlemass or Christ’s purification or Christ presentation in the temple, which we celebrate today marks the end of Christmas in the church. It has been described as one foot in Christmas and one foot in Easter. As we begin the journey from the cradle to the cross candlemas symbolises not only Christ being revealed to the whole world, but also in the old and the young, coming together, talking to each other, and listening to each other. With Jesus and Mary, and Simeon and Anna, at a time when so much about popular culture favours the young and the strong and sidelines, the elderly and the retired.
Today’s Feast is a welcome reminder that we all have such an important role in the life of the church. I really hope that you and I would have seen, heard, or felt something of God’s hope, peace and salvation in this service and to believe that are waiting for a better world, and a flourishing and caring church will be fulfilled. But this takes all of us working together in love and hope and peace.