Wikio - Top Blogs - Religion and belief

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Never too late to recover a sense of wonder

Here is my Candlemas sermon for today's Eucharist at St Stephen Walbrook:

All new babies bring new possibilities into the world. That is because each of us is unique and will therefore have the possibility of doing things that no-one else will or can do. Some babies grow up to be great – to be Winston Churchill or Nelson Mandela - but at the point of birth we don’t know what a new baby will be like or what he or she will do. Anything is possible, the future is completely open.

But in our Candlemas reading (Luke 2. 22 - 40) Simeon and Anna both knew that the six week old baby in Mary’s arms was God’s Messiah, the one who would bring salvation to all peoples. At that time all six week old babies had to be brought to the Temple in Jerusalem. How did Simeon and Anna know that baby Jesus was different from all the other babies that they had seen brought into the Temple?

It was the Holy Spirit that led Simeon into the Temple on that day so that he could encounter Jesus and it was the Holy Spirit that had assured him that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s promised Messiah. Simeon was waiting – looking out, praying for, expecting – Israel to be saved and so the Holy Spirit was with him and revealed the Messiah to him in a six week old baby boy. Often God’s work in the world and in other people is not easy to spot. God works in and through the ordinary and everyday, through the people and things around us and we need to be looking out for signs of his activity and presence. We need to be listening for his Holy Spirit to prompt us to look at some ordinary thing or ordinary person in order to see God at work.

In the film American Beauty, Ricky shows Jane a blurry video of a plastic bag blowing in the wind among autumn leaves. As they watch he explains that "this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. . . . And that’s the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid. Ever." "Sometimes,” he says, “there’s so much beauty in the world I feel like I can’t take it, like my heart’s going to cave in.” To encounter God as that incredibly benevolent force that wants us to know that there is no reason to ever feel afraid, we need to pay attention to the beauty of the ordinary, overlooked things in life, like a plastic bag being blown by the wind. As Saint Augustine said, “How many common things are trodden underfoot which, if examined carefully, awaken our astonishment.”

We assume because Simeon expects to die once he has seen the Messiah that he was an old man and we know that Anna was 84 years old when she saw Jesus. Many of us, after living a while and seeing a lot, become a bit bored, even jaded and, when that happens, we stop expecting much, resigning ourselves to life pretty much as it is. Simeon and Anna didn’t do that though. They retained a sense of expectation, a sense of wonder, a sense of the marvel of life and so they looked for the new thing that they were confident God would do.

Victoria Williams wrote a great song called Century Plant in which she tells the stories of older people who do something new in their old age – paint, travel, study, join the Peace Corp or ride the Grand Rapids. The Century Tree is a cactus plant which blooms once in a hundred years and you never know when it will bloom. Her point is that it is never too late to ask God to give us a sense of wonder and expectancy about the world.

Many people at that time could not see what Simeon and Anna saw. John’s Gospel tells us that the world and his own people did not receive or recognise him but that to those who did receive him and believed in him, he gave the right to become God’s children. Simeon and Anna, although they were old and close to death, and Jesus was only a six week old baby became children, God’s children, because they believed that Jesus was God’s Messiah. The same possibility is there for each one of us. We may have become jaded and cynical because of what we have experienced in life, we may have become closed off to wonder, we may have rejected the possibility of God and the possibility of good. Jesus came as a new-born baby to reawaken all those possibilities in us and in our world, for us to truly be born again. That is what Simeon and Anna experienced and it is what we can experience to as we respond to this child that is God’s salvation for all peoples. It is never too late to recover a new sense of wonder, it is never too late to ask God for it because you never know when it will bloom.

Let us pray: Lord, keep us from an ‘I’ve been this way before’ or ‘I know this already’ attitude. Revive in us a new awareness that you are alive and awake in the world and therefore every day can be filled with good things, even surprises. Amen.


Victoria Williams - Century Plant.

No comments: