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29th January 2017 - Revd. Preb Maureen Hobbs

Sermon for Epiphany 4 - Evening Service

Malachi 3. 1-5
Luke 2.22-40

There is a certain irony in celebrating the first visit of Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem on the first Sunday when we have had to move out of our Church in the interests of keeping warm!
Many years ago new Mums had to undergo the dubious practice of 'churching' before they could be seen out and about in society again with their new baby, and this was a direct copying of the ancient Jewish rituals of purification of women after childbirth that Candlemas in part commemorates.

But it wasn't just a question of attending the Temple for ritual cleansing and special prayers. The Law stated that the young mother must also bring a sacrifice - which would have been quite expensive. Poor people were allowed to substitute two pigeons instead of one pigeon and a lamb - so we know from the detail provided in Luke that Jesus was born into a poor family. He knew from first-hand experience the problems of hunger and a low income. He understood how difficult it can be for some to make a living.

When we find life difficult at times - for whatever reason - we should remember too that for Jesus life was not all plain sailing - he knew the hard grind of making ends meet.

Indeed it has been speculated that if Joseph had died while Jesus was growing up, - as seems highly likely as there is no mention of him after Jesus is around his early teens, then Jesus would have had to work to support his mother and younger siblings. This may explain why his ministry did not begin until he was around 30 years of age... before then he may have had family responsibilities, but eventually his younger brothers may have reached a point when they could shoulder the burden of family responsibility, leaving Jesus free to pursue his calling from God. Who knows?

It would not have been unusual. Working class people died young in those days. What is surprising is that Mary should have lived long enough to see her son grown up and eventually executed on a cross. Most women were married at 13 and dead at 30 in First Century Palestine.

It can't have been easy for Mary. She endured the journey to Bethlehem when nearly 9 months pregnant - giving birth, probably when not much more than a child herself, in strange surroundings and without the help and support of her own family around her; then she hears the strange prophetic message of Simeon in the Temple - which must have sent a shiver down her spine unless she dismissed it at the time as the ravings of an old senile man!

Then perhaps having to bring up a sizeable family - perhaps as a widow without a husband to help for much of the time. Yet Mary, the God-bearer, as she was later to be called, made a great job of it. She raised a child who was both devout and full of compassion for other people.

Some of the Greek philosophers used to say that a child is not given to parents, but only lent to them - I'm sure you have seen poems expressing something similar. Mary endured the scorn of her neighbours for bearing a child before she was married, the misogyny of the ceremonies which described childbirth as something shameful from which she required 'cleansing or purification', her struggles to bring up a family, her loneliness when her first-born son left home.

Then in old age the greatest sacrifice of all - when perhaps the words of Simeon came back to haunt her, proving that his words had not been so misguided after all, when she had to give back the son that God had lent her as she stood with some of the other women, watching the full horror of his crucifixion.
If ever you are tempted to moan about the trials of parenthood or family life, think for a moment of Jesus and Mary!