Pr. Eric Swensson
February 1, 2014
Beloved community. We begin today with two words. Hope. And Fear. What are your hopes for the future? And what of your fears? These two words reside at the far end of the spectrum of human emotions. Perhaps, they are two sides of the same coin. They are often paired together, even in one of our most-loved Christmas carols: The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight. That is a poetic way to say that Jesus knows our hopes and fears. Little fears and anxieties, and great expectations and hoped-for outcomes, Jesus knows them, including my own little bit of nervousness at preaching here for the first time. Will the microphone work properly? More importantly, will my sermon hit home? Well, let us find out!
Forty days ago we celebrated Christmas. I love Christmas, don’t you? Plans are made and realized as we see the joy in our loved ones’ faces. At Christmas we experience satisfaction, or we should, unless our hopes do not come to light. Christmas is followed by New Years. Happy New Year! Or not so happy new year. People express hopes, make plans for changes that are in order. Of course, then January happens, with its cold, short days and for some, well-meant resolutions are broken in record time. The once beautiful tree is taken to the curb. Credit card bills come due. Can we go back to Christmas, please?
Hope. Fear. If you have a decision to make, if you are going to embark on something new, say you are starting college in the fall. Or perhaps a new job has been offered. Then you know the mixture of hope and fear. A longed for chance to shine, but will obstacles be thrown in your way. Or perhaps instead of a new job offered, a career path cannot be seen. Or perhaps your working days are over, and you are thinking of what sort of future lies ahead. Health, finances. Hope and fear.
Christmas. LIGHTS! Lights on trees, a star above Bethlehem, light pouring out of a stable. Epiphany is good. It is called the season of light, but if you are in a land of darkness, the light motif may not come through. [Last week] on the Third Sunday in Epiphany we heard Isaiah 9, a text that interestingly we also hear on Christmas Eve, “The people who walked in the darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness on them a light has shined.” On them a light has shined. Light and gloom. Hope and fear. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee.
The Presentation of Jesus, or the other traditional name, Candlemas, is an ancient and important festival. We could all use a little more Christmas, and today, we get it. Long ago some churches began to mark this day with a celebration of light: the Candle Mass, during which priests would bless the candles to be used in the year to come. This feast reminds us that in the dark days of winter we have the perpetual presence of Christ to light our way.
Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem forty days after his birth in obedience to the Law of Moses. There they encountered a man who had been promised that "he should not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ" (Luke 2:26). He uttered words that became enshrined in the liturgy because they prophesied the redemption of the world by Jesus, we call it the Canticle of Simeon: Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace; according to Thy word: for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people: to be a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).
Simeon then prophesied to Mary: "Behold, this child is set for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which is spoken against. Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (Luke 2:34-35).
The elderly prophetess Anna was also in the Temple, and she offered prayers and praise to God for Jesus, and also spoke to everyone about Jesus and his role in the redemption of Israel. But it is Simeon’s Song befo re us now, beginning with the line where he sings of the light of Christ, a light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.
I grew up going weekly to a church with the historic liturgy, and not only do I remember singing the canticle but also another part of the service that caught a child’s imagination was the phrase “Light from Light”. What exactly is this Light? Here it is in its context in the Creed:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God,begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father. Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.
These ancient words which were to me quite poetic and perhaps a little mystical are actually dogma. The meaning is God the Father is the Light that always was. He has no beginning and He has no end. His Son, Jesus, is eternally begotten of the Father. "God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God". Indeed, Jesus Christ is of one substance (homousios) with God the Father, such that he is completely God as God the Father is. He is completely Light as God the Father is Light. He is True God as God the Father is. He is True God and true man.
“A light to lighten the gentiles and to be the glory of Thy people Israel.” This Light from Light, this Capitalized Light, it is a light that helps us see. “Thy Word is a light unto my path.” God’s Word shines a light onto whatever path you are walking on today. This illumination shows us if we are on a safe path or not. Sometimes it will show we are on the wrong track, other times it shows what may be an obstacle on the path, or a snare to avoid.
Sometimes our way can be quite dark. Isaiah says the people lived in gloom. Light drives the gloom away. So in many ways when we talk about the light. we are addressing our need for light in making choices. But there is another significant point. It is in the beginning of Simeon’s Song, that is,“For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people.
Not only are our hopes and fears met at the cross, so is our ultimate fate, for when we look upon the cross, we see our salvation. Anna, on seeing the one who was the salvation of her people, offered prayers and praise to God. May we be a people known for their praise, and may we speak to everyone about Jesus and His role for the redemption of the world.
Jesus is Light from Light and he is True God as God the Father is but is also True God and true man. The man part is dreadfully important. Hebrews 2:17 reads, “Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.” Jesus Christ is the salvation of the world.
Hope and Fear. Decisions to make. Embarkations. Whether starting college, switching jobs, or retirement, Jesus knows your mixture of hope and fear, and He asks for a chance to shine His light on your path. Health, finances, family, the hopes and fears of all the years have their answer in this Jesus whom God the Father sent to become human in order to redeem humanity. We all make plans, and so it seems even God does, and has a plan for us, to save us. God became human and knows humanity. God became human to show humanity what it means to live and to have life abundantly. God became human so we might live forever. Jesus knows your hopes and fears. Jesus not only knows them, He knows what is best for our future because He is our future. Everything converges in Christ. And for this we say +Amen.