It is 40 days since Christmas. It is the last day that we see our Christmas tree until December comes round again. And we will put away the Christmas crib. The season of Christmas and Epiphany ends today.
In the Gospel reading, we come back to the Holy Family. The baby is nearly 6 weeks old, and his parents take him to the Temple for the first time. They come to the Temple because that’s what everyone did. But also because they are overwhelmed with love for this little person, and they want the very best for him. So they bring him to the Temple to thank God for little Jesus, and to show Jesus that this is where he belongs. They also bring two doves to the priests to sacrifice for Mary’s purification, because that was the religious law which defined who was a Jew and who wasn’t.
So it’s a special occasion for Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus.
And this is a special occasion for K-J and his family. This is the first time he has come to church. This is his presentation, just as Jesus was presented in the Temple. And it is a real joy for us to have him and the family with us today.
And then, back in the Temple, the community get involved. You know what it’s like with a new baby – everyone wants a cuddle.
There’s an old man in the temple. His name is Simeon. He’s a regular worshipper there, someone who follows God and prays. And he’s had a prophecy that he won’t die without seeing the Messiah, God’s special messenger, who is going to change the world and bring in God’s reign.
And when he sees the baby, he knows that this little child is the one, the one who is going to make all the difference, the one who will help all people know God and understand God’s world, the one who will inspire them, the one who would show everyone what God is like and how wonderful God is.
The old man sings a song to God, a beautiful song that we have gone on singing ever since. He says: OK God, you can let me die now, and I will go peacefully, just as you promised, because I have seen this child who is so special. He has come in my lifetime, and now he will bring light into the darkness of peoples’ lives and show God to them.
Now Mary and Joseph didn’t expect that at all. They knew their baby was special and they loved him to bits, but having a stranger tell you how important the child is going to be in the future is another thing entirely.
And then the old man says something really strange to Mary: he tells her that her 6 week old baby is going to change things seriously for a lot of people and will be really challenging to the system, and what’s more, she wouldn’t escape suffering either.
Whoah! That’s not what any mother wants to hear.
Than along comes an old lady. She’s 84, she’s been a widow a long long time, and she’s another of these special, holy people who gives God a lot of her time and energy. She’s another one who wants a cuddle with the baby. And she’s so excited at seeing this baby, that she tells everyone about it, and how this baby is going to save them all.
My husband, Sheridan, loves babies. He so much wants to be a grandfather. Whenever we go to the supermarket, he gurgles over every baby in every supermarket trolley. But it’s not as if he’s making predictions about the impact that they are going to have on the world. It’s not normal for strangers to stop and predict the future of a small child.
When the children are a little bit bigger than that, family members look at how the children are developing and start commenting about their futures. “That bairn is just like my uncle Arthur, so he’s bound to be a wet fish merchant!” “Look at her long fingers – she’s going to be a pianist!” “Look at him with that ball – he’s going to play for Newcastle!” When my son Christopher was three, we took him round the little museum at Alnick Castle, and he was really interested, even at that young age. So I said, “he’s going to be a historian, just like his dad!” And in that case, I was right.
So how did they know that baby Jesus was something special? Maybe it was hope, because Israel was in a mess, being ruled by the invader Romans, and they wanted someone who was going to liberate the holy people. Maybe it was wishful thinking, and they said the same thing to all the babies. Maybe, Simeon and Anna did have special insight, because some people do.
But Mary and Joseph must have been really spooked. In another story, the Bible tells us that Mary remembered the things that happened and what people said and treasured them in her heart. She would have gone on remembering and thinking and weighing it up, and watching him for every sign of promise.
It is another of those stories that tell us something about who Jesus is, and how people started to notice that there was something special about him.
And Jesus is special for us too, even now. He was the bright light in the darkness for the people of his day, and he shines for us as well. Later in the service, we are going to light candles to remember how Jesus is the light that has come in to our lives. You can use it as a prayer, asking Jesus to bring light into all the dark places of your life.
And Jesus shines as a light for K-J as well. This little baby has brought so much sunshine into the lives of mum and dad, and his grandparents and all the family. In a few weeks time, he will come to church to be baptised, but for now, we are going to say thank you to God for him, and pray that God will be with him always, and guide him and protect him.