Candlemas, February 2, 2014
St. John, Port Moody
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer.
Today, we turn a corner. When you are walking down a path that suddenly twists, you do not know what is ahead. The next landmark is hidden from your sight, around the bend. You can only trust the way and go forward knowing that your viewpoint will change. This happens when we go for a walk. This happens as we read Scripture. This happens in our faith communities. It is difficult to see a new beginning at the time. Afterwards, we may look back and see the obvious connections, but in the moment, the larger perspective is denied to us. We can only hope that the road we are meant to follow continues even though it is hidden from our eyesight.
The last book in the Hebrew Scriptures, Malachi, foresees a new beginning around the corner. This unknown prophet, nicknamed “Mala’khai or ‘my messenger’, is writing in the post-exile world of about 450 BC. At the time, although Jerusalem was being resettled and the temple rebuilt, religion was seen as increasingly irrelevant to many. Ethics didn’t matter. The priestly and political hierarchy paid only lip service to the practices of Judaism. In the midst of this comes Malachi’s oracle that the leaders will be judged and the people purified by the chosen messenger from God. This painful, deep, and thorough cleansing will allow the people to turn back to God’s covenant. Turning back means more than following the priestly code. Holiness means true repentance.
The gospel of Luke affirms that now a corner has been turned in God’s involvement with humanity. In the story we hear this morning about Jesus being presented in the Temple, the act involves more than the ritual “redemption”, or of every first-born male. This child is truly “holy to the Lord”. For the compensation price of two turtledoves or pigeons, Jesus is turned back to his parents to carry out the work of salvation. The elders of the congregation are witnesses to this truth. An old man named Simeon cries out, “My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2.30-32) The Messianic messenger that had been prophesied from of old in the holy scrolls like Malachi has now arrived. Now all the world has the opportunity to turn to God.
It is a personal choice. In the sacrament of baptism, there is a distinct moment of “metanoia”, or turning. It comes in the first part of the rite called the preparation and examination, which we will be doing [at 10 am today/in a few minutes]. Three times the candidate or his/her sponsors is asked, “Do you renounce (that is, turn away from) the sins and evil of the world?” Then in three different ways comes the question, “Do you turn to God?” The decision before each person who is baptized is whether to trust the path of one’s life to Jesus or not.
When my eldest daughter was baptized at Christ Church Cathedral at an Easter Vigil, this point in the liturgy was accompanying by a physical turning. The candidates, parents and sponsors began by facing the west window, which illustrates the crucifixion of Jesus. We were asked to turn away from Satan and all the spiritual and temporal forces of evil. Then we rotated 180 degrees to the East to face the stained glass window of the resurrection, and invited to turn our lives over to God’s grace and love. That “about-face” has remained a powerful moment to this day for me.
For many cultures, the idea of turning is integral to an understanding of time. The Lunar New Year celebrations are a reminder that for many, every year carries particular associations, which build in 12, 60, and longer cycles. Predictions based on an understanding of each animal of the Chinese Zodiac may influence how some approach their new year. On Friday, we began the year of the wood Horse. This combination is said to give fuel for energy to accomplish tasks. There is a tendency for people to stand firm on principles in horse years. It is all the more necessary to be willing to negotiate for the common good. Otherwise, conflicts can escalate. Each person must also have awareness and flexibility to balance in response to the changing conditions. To have the ability to turn and still follow the path of life is both wisdom and gift.
Wisdom and gift are needed here today, as the separate vestries of St. John Port Moody and St. Margaret of Scotland make choices for their future. There have been many twists and turns in the path that has led to this moment. Now a corner has been reached. None of us can see the full landscape of what lies beyond. We have the prophet’s message of warning that each of us will be made holy through a refining process. We have the gospel’s promise of hope that the Light of the Nations has opened a way for us. And we have our own baptismal ministry that affirms that as we turn to Christ, we will find new life. Now, as we come to this new year, this new time, this new corner, let us pray that our hearts are open to God’s will. Let us trust that the One who has guided us so far in our journey will help us to have the courage to take the next step.
In Arnold Lobel’s children’s book, Frog and Toad All Year, is a tale called “the Corner”. Two friends are waiting for a depressing rain to end. One cheers up the other with the following: “When I was small, not much bigger than a pollywog’ said Frog, ‘my father said to me, ‘Son, this is a cold gray day but spring is just around the corner.’ I wanted spring to come. I went out to find that corner. I walked down a path in the woods until I came to a corner. I went around the corner to see if spring was on the other side. There was only a pine tree, three pebbles and some dry grass. I walked in the meadow. Soon I came to another corner. I went around the corner to see if spring was there. There was only an old worm asleep on a tree stump. I walked along the river until I came to another corner. I went around the corner to look for spring. There was only some wet mud and a lizard who was chasing his tail… I was tired, and it started to rain. I went back home. When I got there, I found another corner. It was the corner of my house. I went around that corner too. I saw the sun coming out. I saw birds sitting and singing in a tree. I saw my mother and father working in their garden. I saw flowers in the garden. I was very happy. I had found the corner that spring was just around. ‘Look, Frog’, said Toad. ‘You were right. The rain has stopped.’ Frog and Toad hurried outside. They ran around the corner of Frog’s house to make sure that spring had come again.