Recognising Jesus – a sermon for Candlemas

What is the longest you have ever had to wait for something? How does it feel to wait for a long time? How do you feel when that long-awaited thing is finally here?

Now picture Simeon, in the temple. He had been waiting years and years for what he had been promised by God – that he would see the Messiah. And now, at last, the moment had come. Among all the crowds, all the other parents bringing their new babies to the temple, Simeon saw the one he had been waiting for, that one special baby, Jesus, the Messiah.

There is a moment, a moment of recognition, when Simeon looks into the face of this little baby, and sees God. We don’t know exactly what it was he recognised, what divine spark he saw, how the holy spirit spoke to him in that moment. But that moment of recognition is key – it’s key to today’s celebration of Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple – but it’s also the first of a series of moments in the gospels when people recognise Jesus for who he really is.

Peter: “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” Martha: “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah.” Mary Magdalen: “I have seen the Lord.” Doubting Thomas: “My Lord and my God.” (Not-so-doubting anymore.)

Perhaps you can relate to those moments of recognition. I wonder if you can think of a time when you have recognised Jesus? Or realised something about who Jesus is? Maybe a sudden “aha” moment, or maybe the slow dawning realisation that Jesus is who he says he is; the son of God, the Messiah, God made flesh, God with us, the Light of the World.

Today we celebrate the recognition of Jesus as “a light to reveal God to the nations”. But the light, and the revelation of that light, doesn’t stop there. Each of us in our baptism is given the light of Christ, and we must take seriously our call as the body of Christ to “shine as lights in the world to the glory of God”.

[Light candles from central candle.]

The light spreads and multiplies, and the more light there is, the more we can shine God’s light in a world which often seems rather dark and dismal, the greater the chance of people seeing that light and recognising it for what it is.

Jesus became like us – “flesh and blood”, as we heard in our first reading – so that we can recognise him in his divine human body, and recognise the divinity in our own fragile humanity, the spark of God’s Holy Spirit in each of us.

It may be hard to recognise ourselves – and each other – as bearers of the divine image, made and known and loved by God, carriers of the Christ-light, filled with the Holy Spirit. But that is the reality. And until we learn to recognise ourselves as who we truly are in Christ, we will find it very hard to show others who Christ truly is in us.

There is a wonderful moment in an episode of Dr Who, where the Doctor asks “who’s that?” and receives the reply “no-one important”. His response is brilliant: “in 900 years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important.”

It can be tempting to think of ourselves as “not important”, not clever enough, not old enough, not good enough. But that’s not true. You are important. You do matter. You matter so much to the God who created the whole universe that he was born as a vulnerable baby, lived a very human life, died and rose again, for you – so that you can know how loved you are and how important you are. The truth is, each of us is vitally important in God’s plan for the salvation and transformation of the world. Each of us has a role to play, a calling to fulfil.

We may recognise Jesus in many places and people, in ways that amaze or challenge us. I know I have done, and will no doubt go on doing so. But we must also learn to recognise Jesus in ourselves, in the work of the Holy Spirit in each of us. Recognising God – in ourselves, in the world around us, in the sound of sheer silence, and in the busyness of life in all its fullness – is the work of a lifetime. May God give us grace to recognise those glimpses of glory. Amen.