Sunday, 31 December 2017

‘When the fullness of time
had come, God sent his Son’

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple … a stained-glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday, 31 December 2017,

New Year’s Eve, the First Sunday of Christmas.

11 a.m., Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry,

The Parish Eucharist.

Readings:
Isaiah 61: 10 to 62: 3; Psalm 148; Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 2: 22-40 or Luke 2: 15-21.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

As we ring out the old and ring in the new, today and tomorrow are days to recall old memories, look forward to new beginnings, renew relationships, seek closures and set out on new ventures.

‘In my beginning is my end ...In my end is my beginning’ ... a sign for the old year and the new year in Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This morning’s Gospel reading recalls another beginning with the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus.

In the Epistle reading, we are reminded that in Christ each of us becomes a Child of the Covenant. In our Gospel, the Child Jesus becomes a Child of the Covenant. This is a Festival that marks three events:

1, firstly, the naming of the Christ Child;

2, secondly, the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham ‘and his children for ever,’ thus Christ’s keeping of the Law;

3, thirdly, traditionally, the first shedding of Christ’s blood.

The most significant of these events in the Gospels is the name itself. The name Jesus means ‘Yahweh saves’ and so is linked to the question asked by Moses of God: ‘What is your name?’ ‘I am who I am,’ was the reply, thus the significance of Christ’s words: ‘Before Abraham was, I am,’ and the significance of the ‘I AM’ sayings in the Fourth Gospel.

In our Gospel reading, Saint Luke recalls the Circumcision and Naming of Christ in a short, terse summary account in one, single verse: ‘After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb’ (Luke 2: 21).

A popular 14th century work, the Golden Legend, explains the Circumcision as the first time the Blood of Christ is shed, and thus the beginning of the process of the redemption, and a demonstration too that Christ is fully human.

Saint Luke does not say where the Christ Child was circumcised, although the great artists – Rembrandt in particular –often place the ritual in the Temple, linking the Circumcision and the Presentation, so that Christ’s suffering begins and ends in Jerusalem.

This may seem to be a simple story about the thankful piety of the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph bringing their firstborn to the Temple for dedication, where they are met by the patient piety of the priest Simeon and the prophet Anna.

But this reading says a great deal more than this. The Christ Child is to become the fulfilment of the hope of the priests (the Law) and the hope of the prophets. This reading links the Incarnation with the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, Christmas with Good Friday and Easter.

The Christ Child who is brought to the Temple in dedication is the Christ who later visits the Temple in the days before his crucifixion. The sacrifice of the doves hints at the future sacrifice of Christ.

There is poetic quality to the contrast between the young parents, Mary and Joseph, and the elderly couple in the Temple, Simeon and Anna. Once again, we are challenged to think about the meaning of beginnings and endings.

We may concentrate on the small picture, the simple image of this poor family arriving in humility at the Temple.

However, it takes the old and the blind Simeon to see the big picture. It is not that the parents have come to purify the child or themselves, but that Christ has come to purify the world.

This old man takes this little infant in his arms, and in this action finds he is holding in his hands the promise of the world. Towards the end of his life, new life comes to vindicate his life lived in hope and in faith. Hope is not the sole preserve of the young.

The words Simeon speaks are not easy, and remind us that the Incarnation is without meaning without the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.

In Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis (verses 29-32), we have beginning and ending, welcoming and departing, falling and rising.

In the end, the family returns home to Nazareth – Saint Luke has no flight into Egypt – as an ordinary family going back to their ordinary family life. The time of expectancy has come to end. The time of God’s salvation is now here, in our ordinary lives.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day make a good time to look back and to look forward with eyes of faith in company with one another and with God. The beginning of redemption, the beginning of the New Covenant, the beginning of the New Year. As TS Eliot opens and closes ‘East Coker’:

In my beginning is my end
... In my end is my beginning


And so, may all we think, do and say be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

‘Candlemas 2012’ (York Minster) by Susan Hufton … Simeon’s ‘Nunc Dimittis’ in a painting at a recent exhibition on the Bible, ‘Holy Writ,’ in Lichfield Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Priest-in-Charge, the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes. This sermon was prepared for 31 December 2017.

The Methodist Covenant Prayer:

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Use me as you choose;
rank me alongside whoever you chose;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
raised up for you or brought down low for you.

Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
With my whole heart I freely choose to yield
all things to your ordering and approval.

So now, O glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you art mine, and I am yours.
So be it.

And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Collect:

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
Grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)

Preface:

You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

Post Communion Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
you have refreshed us with this heavenly sacrament.
As your Son came to live among us,
grant us grace to live our lives,
united in love and obedience,
as those who long to live with him in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

The Naming and Circumcision of Christ … a stained-glass window in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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