Fifth Sunday before Lent
Readings: Ezekiel 43.27-44.4; Psalm 48; 1 Corinthians 13. 1-13; Luke 2. 22-40 (view all)
I wonder whether you’ve ever met someone who so exuded love and godliness that meeting them had a profound effect on you. That’s the way that often people speak about some of our ‘saints’ of modern times, Mother Theresa, Pope Francis and others.
I think there have been a couple of times in my life when I’ve met, not anybody famous, but just ordinary people who are so filled with love that I went away rejoicing, with a sense of having been with them in God’s presence.
In today’s gospel reading, we find Simeon and Anna encountering God in the infant Jesus in a dramatic way. What can we learn from their encounter? And what might it mean for us to encounter Jesus in that same personal way, in our lives today?
As we bring the extended season of Christmas and Epiphany to an end, today’s gospel takes us right back to where we started our Christmas celebrations, with Simeon and Anna meeting the infant Jesus in the Jerusalem temple, and encountering the wonder of the incarnation — God with us.
At the heart of the Christian faith is the idea that in the person, Jesus of Nazareth, humanity is able to look upon God himself.
That God’s great love for us is so extravagant, that he would come to us in flesh and blood, in order to know us, in order to be with us, in order to express the fullness of his love for us.
In Jesus Christ, we find God embodied, indeed love embodied.
Seeing Jesus even as an infant, Simeon and Anna are overcome by that love. For Simeon, his whole life has been spent patiently waiting for God, and now God himself is in front of him, in the flesh, and he is undone. For Anna, she cannot help but start to proclaim the good news of God’s love to those around.
However, Simeon also gets a glimpse of what the terrible consequences will be of God’s love being revealed like this. He realises the sacrifice that it will entail on the part of Jesus, and the toll this will take on his mother Mary.
He understands that God entering into the the world, like this, mean things are going to get messy. That there will be opposition, that this child in front of him will hold the suffering of many, and ultimately bear the pain of humanity, literally in his own body, through his death.
This isn’t an airy-fairy kind of love, the kind of fuzzy Valentine’s day puppy love — this love is serious. This is the love of a Father who will go to any lengths for his children, whether they deserve it or not, and who doesn’t count the cost.
This is Jesus, the older brother, who will do whatever it takes to set God’s world to rights, and draw us all, his brothers and sisters, into the incredible love of God. A love which surrounds us, protects us, enfolds us. A love which endures no matter what.
To be a Christian is to rely on this kind of love, to be wired in to the very heartbeat of God, to find freedom and energy from being fully known by the very source of life itself. As Paul tells the Corinthians, with it we are nothing — a clanging cymbal, a noisy gong.
And without the outpouring of this love, a wave of sacrifice and service for others, our world cannot hold together. Perhaps right now, our world more than ever is in desperate need of this kind of love.
Paul wants his readers to realise that to grow up, to grow in maturity, is to grow in love. When our love for others is immature, we’re polite to their faces but behind their backs are envious, boastful, arrogant, rude, unkind, unforgiving.
Mature love, though, is extravagant, and grace-filled, not judging whether the recipient is worthy or deserving, willing to sacrifice and serve.
As Paul writes,
And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
I wonder: Will we embrace the incredible love offered to us in Jesus, drawing strength from his life within us in good times and really, really hard times? Will we grow in our own ability to embody and express that same sacrificial love for those around us?
How can we be a Church community characterised by radical, sacrificial, abundantly grace-filled love for our neighbours?
Rowan Williams writes, in one of his many books,
God has given himself away so completely that we meet him here in poverty and weakness, with no trumpeting splendour, no clouds of glory. This is how he is: he acts by giving away all we might expect to find in him, of strength and success as we understand them. The universe lives by a love that refuses to bully us or force us, the love of the cradle and the cross.
In Jesus — the infant Jesus encountered by Simeon and Anna, the adult Jesus suffering on the cross, and the resurrected Jesus who makes his dwelling in our hearts — we see God’s love embodied. May we, by his grace, through perseverance and sacrifice, embody that same love in a world that so desperately needs it.