CANDLEMAS SERMON 2012
Today we remember that Mary and Joseph took their baby to Jerusalem, to the Temple which was the main place for Jewish worship. Imagine if a couple nowadays carried their little baby into St Paul’s Cathedral and a couple of old people came swooping down on them, saying, “Now I can die in peace! The Lord has kept his word!”
No wonder Mary and Joseph were amazed. What could a little baby do to make two old people die happy? They weren’t going to live to see Jesus grow up into a man and go about teaching and healing people, let alone rise from the dead and send his disciples to all nations. At the moment the baby Jesus was only interested in sleeping and drinking milk. He didn’t even know he was being brought into the great Temple, just as babies don’t know they are being christened.
But Simeon and Anna were trusting people. They knew that God keeps his word. They had waited and prayed, and as soon as they saw a sign of hope, they were ready to believe that the promise of a Saviour was going to be fulfilled.
When parents bring their babies or children into this church to be baptised, they trust that God is going to welcome them as members of his family. They hope that their children will grow up, anointed with the sign of the cross, washed in the water of baptism like Jesus, to be lights in the world to the glory of God. That is why we give all the baptised a lighted candle, as we did a few weeks ago when the Bishop came.
Something else happened that morning as we stood around the font. We all renewed our baptism promises and said that we believe and trust in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And after the candidates had been baptised, six young members of our congregation stepped up and put their hand in the water of baptism, making the sign of the cross to remind them and us that they are baptised Christians, members of God’s family.
Today those young people take another step of trust and hope. You are no longer babies, carried in your parents’ arms. And you are not yet grownups, ready to take on a life-long vow of being a disciple as confirmation candidates do.
You are somewhere in the middle of your faith journey. Today you are old enough to come to the altar of God and receive the body and blood of Jesus. You know that God welcomes us all to his table, and that he sends us out to be lights in the world. You know that you are already members of God’s family, fully accepted and loved, and now you are old enough to take responsibility for your own actions.
When you come to the eucharist, you can join the grownups when we all confess our sins and say sorry to God. You can listen to the readings from the Bible and think about what they mean. When we share the peace, you can offer the peace to your neighbours, and make peace with anyone you have quarrelled with. When you have received communion, you can say your own prayer of thanks to Jesus for coming to be with you.
I hope that when you are older still, you will take the grownup decision to be confirmed. But that is a few years away, because that is about making a lifelong vow to be a follower of Jesus. It is more like getting married – not something you want to do in primary school!
Candlemas is a wonderful occasion for celebrating First Communion, because on Candlemas we all remind ourselves of our baptism. We have spent 40 days celebrating Christmas and Epiphany. In those seasons we rejoice that the Son of God has been born among us as a human being, and that he has shown the whole world what God is like.
Today we come to the end of Christmas and Epiphany. We start to look forward to the beginning of Lent, when we ask God to help us follow Jesus even when it is hard to do so, all the way to the cross. We need strength for this journey. We know that being a light in the world isn’t always easy.
But because we have been baptised, we will trust God to be with us every step of the way. And so at the end of the service we will each have a lighted candle and we will walk together to the font, singing the song that Simeon sang, Nunc dimittis. Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace, according to your word. We remember that our journey of faith begins at the font, and that it is through our baptism that we are sent out to love and serve God in our daily lives. When the candles are blown out, it is over to us to be living candles, showing God’s love to the world.
In a few moments we will declare our faith, and then after Nathaniel has led our prayers we will admit and welcome the children who have prepared for their first holy communion. May this be the first day of a great many when you come to the altar of God in trust and hope. Amen.