Sermon from Candlemass February 5, 2023

A time for peace
Candlemass, Series A
Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40
Rev. Sergio Rodriguez

At that moment she [Anna] came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem (Lk 2:38).”

Rachel McWhirter, our Director of Digital Ministry, and I had such a moment last week when we attended a World Interfaith Harmony week at First Lutheran Church in Galveston. Hindus, Buddhists, Orthodox, Jewish folks, and Lutherans. We listened to each other for a moment to speak about our deepest convictions about the peace which the world can not give. Our keynote speaker, one Father Thomas Colyando, kicked off this year’s gathering entitled, Inner Peace to Interpersonal Harmony, with this insight about peace. It is an insight that Simeon and Anna shared and from which they, “looked forward to the consolation of Israel (Lk 2:25b).” The human being possesses a heart. Simple enough. In this heart, we experience all kinds of yearns and churnings, hopes and joys, passions, and desires. For us to experience peace, the inner light of God, the uncreated Light that is God, Father, Son, and Spirit, needs to shine upon us. When God shines, inner peace comes alive. This transformation filters out what distracts us, and distills peace. This transformation allows us then to bring transformative peace to our homes, friends, and society.

This insight about this inner peace, illuminating our hearts, fits the central meaning of our Candlemass celebration. Today we mark both an end and a beginning. A beginning of the end, which has no end. Here is what I mean. In our concluding rite, as we blow out our candles, we mark this time by professing: Here we turn from Christ’s birth to his passion. Help us, for whom lent is near, to enter deeply into the Easter Mystery. Anna and Simeon, in the power of the Spirit, appear as those who understand clearly the beginning and the end of this child, Jesus. Destined for the falling and rising of many…nevertheless, through his passion and resurrection, he shall be light for the Gentiles, and redemption for Jerusalem.

Yet Simeon and Anna stand here to ask us: Is this your time? Is now the time for you to experience that inner light? If not, what do you need to hear from God so that you may know peace? I want to help you discern the times for God’s inner peace to enlighten you, as we mark this day not only for our Second Congregational Meeting but as we navigate life, in all the pushes and pulls its offers. First, I will demonstrate Simeon and Anna as faith-filled companions in our search for peace. I will then show you that it is their faith, both-and, from God and in their endurance, which cracks open the window into dawning peace. In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us (Lk 1:78).

Simeon and Anna embodied the deep hungering and wrestling of their forbearers. Simeon, at death’s door, with only a faint flickering of hope to sustain him. Anna, decades of her life spent in the temple, grounded with the spiritual practices of fasting and prayer. They stood before Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the pinnacle of the long arc of faithful living with God. At Peniel, there was a lucha libre match between Jacob and an angel of the Lord. Jacob pinned the angel down until he tapped out by blessing Jacob (Gen 32:26-28, 30): He and his descendants were to be Luchadores (fighters. I.e. Israel). These same descendants, after being enslaved for four hundred and thirty years, complained in the wilderness as God led them as, a “pillar of cloud…along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light (Exod 13:21).”

As their descendent faced the wilderness of Roman occupation, there stood Simeon and Anna waiting diligently for the words of the prophet Isaiah to pass, “Arise, shine for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you (Isa 60:1).” As we eat and drink of the light, who is Christ, Simeon, and Anna are here to join with us in our longing for consolation. Who are the Simeons and Annas of your lives who have stood with you in your search? What are their names? Can you picture their faces? What about them allowed you to experience the truth that with God, everything is going to be alright?

The author of the letter of Hebrews would say: “through faith and patience inherit[ed] the promises (Heb 6:12).” It is faith, the faith that seems to come at the right time, and out of nowhere, faith in the one who has become like his siblings in every respect, Jesus, that brings forth peace. Consider the suffering Anna endured during and after she lost her husband. Or Simeon, in a whole lifetime spent with no resolution in sight. Consider yourself! How much illness, setbacks, bigotry, failed relationships, loss, and hopes delayed you have endured. When I hear about the most recent death of Tyre Nicholas, another unarmed black man, I wonder what kind of light needs to break forth into our collective hearts?

I think it begins just as we began. With inner peace. That inner peace which is given by God, and received through what theologian and preacher, Howard Thurman called, “the simple lesson of trust.” Trust is best received through discipline….an easing up of the self, a relaxation of one’s spirit into God’s Spirit. Shall this be your time to experience God’s peace that through you others may experience the light of life? My prayer for you is that you may experience this peace as you name those who stood with you, and the God whose presence is like the rays of the morning sun “May our eyes see your salvation, and may this be the moment for us to praise and speak about the newborn Son. Amen.