In our world we value those whose intelligence and use of logic enables scientific discovery and human advancement. But rationality is not enough on its own. We all know that there are levels of intuition and spirituality that also advance our understanding of the world. Prophets and mystics are those who perceive truth not with their intellect but with their imagination. Tonight on this feast of Candlemas our tradition directs us to re-imagine the poignant story of the presentation of Jesus in the temple. In this story we have a prophet, Simeon, who foresees what the consequences of Jesus life will be, both personally and at the level of community. We also have a mystic, Anna, who has been a celibate widow devoted to the life of prayer for something like sixty years. Each of them sees the infant Jesus for who he really is and rejoices with a joy that reaches down the centuries to this gathering tonight...
So let's picture the temple. Standing on a hill, made from massive stones and richly adorned it dwarfs every other building around it. The family from Nazareth seem tiny as they approach; young Mary leaning on the arm of her husband as she makes the steep ascent, cradling the baby Jesus. They have been here before. Joseph's family makes the journey every year from Nazareth. Mary would have visited as a child , perhaps spending time with her older cousin Elizabeth when her husband Zechariah was on duty as a temple priest. The place has memories for them. They are not intimidated by the grandeur but Joseph admires the craftsmanship. They are not unlike some of us here tonight. We know this grand building. We are not afraid of it. Yet we also admire its beauty and give thanks for those who have built this and the other beautiful buildings in our city that remind us of God. We acknowledge the gifts of human skill and artistry that we have received and seek to put them to the common good. Mary and Joseph come to give thanks for their child and present him to God for blessing. Here too countless families have come, to bring their young ones for baptism and blessing. The echoes of their footsteps and their laughter fill this place just as they filled the temple long ago.
The outer courts of the temple are busy and noisy, full of colour and strange smells. It is more of a market place than anything else. For some of these stall holders times are tough. The Roman occupation means high taxes on everything they produce. Perhaps that's why they resort to the unfair trading practices for which Jesus later condemns them. Here tonight we think of the bustle of our places of business and trade, our shops and markets and all that brings life and vibrancy to our city. And we give thanks for the riches of the life we enjoy here. We think of those in our surrounding region who tend the land, who raise cattle and grow grains and vegetables and we remember especially those so desperately affected by drought.
Mary and Joseph buy their turtle doves according to custom, for custom and tradition is very important, binding us together in community as we know well here in Toowoomba too. And they move out of the heat and sunlight and into the cool inner area of the temple to offer the customary sacrifice. It is dark in here, but as their eyes adjust to the low light, an old man hurries towards them and greets them with extraordinary joy. This is Simeon. He is an old man and everyone acknowledges his holiness and his ability to speak truth to power. It has not been an easy life being a prophet. People often prefer the comfort of an accepted lie, to the challenge of truth. Simeon carries the weight of the pain of his people's history on his shoulders. For six hundred years since the exile, their land has been occupied by foreign powers, their religion despised, their traditions denigrated. There have been wars and attempts at rebellion, and all have met with death and defeat. Many have lost faith in God. It has been hard for those like Simeon to keep the flames of hope and love and truth alight. Simeon is old and ready to die, but he clings to the promise that before he dies, he shall see consolation for his people. Perhaps some of you here tonight feel like Simeon, that you have seen too much hardship, too
much pain. Perhaps at times even here in safe and peaceful Toowoomba you have felt the struggle for justice, and equality and compassion too long and too hard. As you have walked with the refugees and the homeless and the abused of our city you have asked God 'how long'? Perhaps some of you too are prophets - there are many such among our politicians, and artists and songwriters and journalists- and the road of the prophet is never easy. So with Simeon we
acknowledge you tonight and the vital role you play in the health of our community.
May your wisdom and insight guide our steps in this New Year. Simeon is filled with the Holy Spirit - that extraordinary gift of God's very self that enables human beings to see and to act in ways that transform themselves and their communities. The Spirit's work is known by its fruits, love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control, and we see her work here in Toowoomba in the marvellous and increasing dialogue between our different faith groups as together we seek to build a city of peace and harmony. Simeon, this elderly Jew, is filled with the Spirit and as he sees Mary and Joseph approach with the baby, he sees and knows, beyond all doubt, that this child is the one; that this child is the source of hope and consolation and healing for all; that this child, whom he sees as a
radiant ball of light, is the light of the world. And he takes the child and lifts him high, the light filling the temple with indescribable beauty. But even as he holds the child high he knows that the beauty and the love comes at terrible cost.
And he turns to Mary, and with infinite gentleness and infinite sadness warns her that not everyone will welcome this great gift. That the divine made human will always be opposed and killed. That sorrow will pierce her soul. These are not words that any mother wants to hear. And for young Mary, who had opened herself to bear God's son, and received the visits of angels, shepherds and wise ones, a deep shadow must have fallen across her joy.
And out of the shadows comes another figure, Anna, the mystic and prophetess who has given her life to prayer and contemplation. In sixty years there in the temple she must have seen many things. She would have seen life and death, joy and sorrow, struggle and release. And she would have known those things in her own life and wrestled with them in prayer. If we suppose that she married at sixteen, she would have been a widow at twenty three. For the young can know sorrow too and joy and pain are never far apart in our human experience. The grieving of our city and region after the floods of 2011, was matched only by the courage and determination of our community to support one another. Yet this year we face fresh tragedy as across the joyous celebrations of Australia Day fell the shadow of the two young people killed in a road accident. Across the joyous return of students to school has fallen the shadow of the murder of a Year 6
student and her mother. We hold them and their families tenderly in our hearts tonight, along with others in our close parish community here at St. Luke's who in this New Year period have been bereaved of a mother, a husband, a treasured friend. Tonight we lift them all into the light that steams from the infant Christ, lifted high in the arms of the old, the one so close to birth, the other so close to death. Yet which is which, for in death we are born to life eternal?
And so as we come to this new year we bring ourselves, our hopes and our longings, our joys and our sorrows and we give thanks that Christ knows and can transform them all. We turn from the simple joys and pleasures of Christmas and holiday times, to the tougher demands of work and study. We walk onward in the peace and the companioning of Christ, whose light streams onward for the temple of long ago, into this place and every place of worship and out into every cell and atom of our world, bringing hope and healing. In the name of Christ Amen