Sermon podcast: Presentation of Christ27 Jan 2020 By Sermon Podcasts
Georgina Byrne, Residentiary Canon at the Cathedral, 2 February 2020.
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In our garden on College Green my husband tends to four beehives. He has kept bees for a number of years now and one of his primary considerations when we moved to the cathedral was would there be space for the bees? Thankfully, the bees are very happy. We have had some good honey harvests.
I, too, have become something of an expert in bees – despite being very definitely hands-off when it comes to the actual insects. Possibly this is because I have listened to an apiarist’s wisdom over the dinner table on many (too many?) occasions. I’ve even been known to give advice to people over the phone, when they call to ask about swarms.
One of the most fascinating things about a bee colony is its extraordinary sensitivity to the rhythms of the seasons. Beekeepers (quite an eccentric bunch) will delight to tell you that certain things will happen when the may is in blossom, or when the catkins appear. But for beekeepers, Candlemas is also highly significant – and not just because of the old association with wax candles. For it is at Candlemas that the queen bee begins to lay her new brood, after a period of inactivity. Candlemas, in the bee colony, marks a new beginning, a turning point in the cycle of the community. The bees move back into new life. And it’s astonishingly precise.
The reason why Candlemas marks this turning point is not because bees are particularly religious, but because it is six weeks after the winter solstice, and halfway towards the vernal equinox, and the sun is now shining for an hour longer each day than it was at Christmas. Bees, more than anything else, are incredibly sensitive to light, and the colony reacts to presence of the light.
For us, Candlemas marks a liturgical mid-point too: standing halfway between Christmas and Holy Week. We catch a glimpse of this in the story of the presentation of Christ in the Temple. For here we look back to Christmas – we have the baby, newly born, carried in the arms of his mother into the Temple.
At the same time, we look on to Holy Week, a sharp reminder as Simeon tells Mary that a sword will pierce her own soul. Candlemas marks a turning point.
But the story of the presentation, perhaps most of all, is about the reaction of Simeon and Anna to the presence of the light of the world in their midst. The light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Israel is witnessed, praised and proclaimed by two people who have been waiting a long time for its appearing. Simeon and Anna have been waiting, sensitive to God, longing for his Messiah. When he arrives, in an unlikely form – a child in the arms of two ordinary people – they are so attuned, so expectant, that they do not miss the moment. They see the Messiah, and proclaim him. They are brought into life – into new life – by the presence of the light of the world. At evensong, every evensong at the cathedral, we recall this in the canticle we call the Nunc Dimittis. Simeon’s song.
As Christians we are called to be like Simeon and Anna, sensitive to the presence of God, longing to meet with him, ready to proclaim him. We are invited to live as those who expect to meet with God, as much as we expect the sun to rise in the morning and the days to get longer in the summer. For if we live expecting to meet with God in our daily life, we will be blessed, as Simeon and Anna were blessed.
. So maybe, as the days start to get a little bit longer, as the mornings get a little bit lighter and it goes dark just a tiny bit later you might remember the bees. Or, when you see and hear the bees out and about, just pause for a moment. Remember that in hives across the country, and in hives not far from you, colonies sensitive to the changes in the light move into life again at the turning point of the year. We stand now at the turning point between the crib and the cross. And pray, as you remember the bees, that you too, along with Simeon and Anna, might be sensitive to the presence of the light. May we live our lives longing for the light of Christ, and ready to proclaim him as we find him.
- What signs of growth and new life do you see in your garden – or near to where you live? What do you particularly like to look out for?
- What signs of life and hope do you see in your life, your faith, your church? What gives you cause for joy and hope? It doesn’t have to be a big thing!
- How might you, every day, look for signs of God’s light and love in what you do?