s070g^97 The Presentation of Christ in the Temple 2/2/97 Somerton Park +
Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus "up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord" Luke 2.22
We only celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, on a Sunday, I suppose (taking into account leap years) every six or so years. The reading for the gospel is a repetition of the gospel for the Sunday after Christmass, five weeks ago now. So if anyone thinks the words are familiar, you are quite correct.
I recently heard a person of the female gender describe giving birth as like being run over by a truck, only to have the truck turn around and do it again. I have enough trouble with dentists, which happened to me last Wednesday week ago. One comes away aching because one has had one's mouth open for such a long time, fearful to move lest the tongue accidentally get too close to the drill and one has more than one hole to deal with. So I am eternally grateful that it was not I who had to bring our boys into this world. It is, as I said some time back, giving birth must be one of the least dignified procedures anyone could have happen to them.
I was interested to see a short film on the ABC also last Wednesday week ago. It was an animated cartoon made by a woman about being pregnant and giving birth. I am sorry that I did not take more notice of it at the time - I didn't even take in the title - I was still a little sore. But it described in a light hearted way all the emotional responses this person had to the news that she was to have a baby. The one that particularly stuck in my mind was that she suddenly said to her partner: "We've got to get a piano!" - before even the baby was born. But it went through all the emotions, despair, fear, excitement ... It was all very delightful and lighthearted, until right at the end. The child was stillborn. The cartoon spoke of her joy to hold the child - even though it did not breathe - and the loneliness of life after the event. Again, sometimes it seems those of the female gender "do it hard".
But on the brighter side, for the number of children who are born, they bring a feeling of fulfilment to mothers in particular, that they have achieved something for which they were created. I liken this to the gold and silver of which the prophet Malachi speaks. We are so used to fearing the fire that sometimes we fail to see that it is only the dross and the impurities which are consumed. That which is valuable remains untouched by the flames. We are that which is valuable (I'm sorry for the grammar). We too will be untouched. Indeed we rejoice to have these things gone - for they are the frustrations, the distractions and the fears. We emerge the real person we were made in the beginning, and having fulfilled that for which we were created.
And so parents come. Perhaps the father has to be dragged along - for it is not his day, not his achievement. He cannot comprehend the totality of the emotions that the process involves - perhaps he has been the butt of many of them prior to the birth.
So Mary and Joseph brought the baby Jesus. Not, I suspect because the law required them to do so: "as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"". They came not, I suspect, particularly to have Mary "purified" as the law required either. Fortunately the Book of Common Prayer has turned this into the "Thanksgiving of Women after Child birth commonly called the Churching of Women" though the rubric at the end of the service directs that "The Woman, that cometh to give her thanks, must offer accustomed offerings ..." (BCP p338) Again, I have found it interesting that the rules that clergy work by in this Diocese forbid taking offerings for baptisms. So the then Bishop Reed wrote in 1963 "No fee or thankoffering may under any circumstances be required of any parents or Godparents". Yet every parent I have ever met has wanted to give the Church a donation, I suspect in the spirit of the rubric at the end of the Churching of Women and the gospel example of Mary and Joseph.
Mary and Joseph came and parents continue to come, because they have been through one of those life threatening, life changing experiences, where amidst all the blood and indignity, a new life has come into the world and they sense something of its importance and its joy. It is a real fulfilment, and they come to share their joy and pleasure with the wider society and with God. Like the newly cast silver and gold, untarnished and pure, they feel complete. If they spend lives otherwise undistinguished, they have achieved his feat, certainly which countless others have done, and yet the child they bring is unique to them alone.
They may not believe in God, but they want to thank God anyway.
If we as the Church start talking about repentance and faith, we have failed to appreciate why parents are coming. Failing to appreciate why parents are coming, we fail to respond to the joy they wish to share, and demand of them answers to questions they haven't even begun to ask.
Actually of course we believe that God brought Mary and Joseph to the Temple to do for Jesus as the law required. Article 10 (of the 39) states that: "We have no power to do good works pleasing and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us" - by which we mean inspiring us. Coming to the Temple to present a child to God certainly is "a good works pleasing and acceptable to God", as is bringing a child for baptism. So if the church questions peoples' sincerity and faith, the Church neither recognises that God has brought people here, nor helped them recognised the call that God has extended to them.
In failing to recognise the actions of God in the lives of others, we incarcerate Jesus in a tomb no more and no less secure than the one the one where they laid the body of the Crucified so long ago.
God inspires parents come to share their thankfulness and their joy with us. I wonder if the Church fails to appreciate the incredible gift that parents and children offer us in bringing children. In failing to recognise and appreciate the gift we are also failing to bless. In failing to bless we also fail to be blessed.
Simeon and Anna see in the baby Jesus God at work. Their own lives of devotion and prayer are fulfilled by this helpless child. Is the Church's life of devotion and prayer self sufficient? Can we not do with a glimpse of God at work where people invite us to share in their joy? Can we not do with a glimpse of God at work elsewhere than that which has come through ourselves? Can we not see God elsewhere and be moved to praise him as Simeon and Anna were? Can we let Jesus be raised? Let us pray that we can.
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