Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
Quantum physics tells us that light is both wave and particle. It’s a duality…a both/and…a paradox broadly accepted by modern physics…I don’t understand it…I mean I sort of do…but not really…but I trust that it’s true.
Light is a paradox. The Incarnation is also a paradox…Jesus, we say, is both God and human…fully God and fully human…both/and…I studied theology not physics, so maybe I understand the incarnation better than quantum wave/particle duality…I mean, I understand it academically…but on a basic human level…like light…it’s still a mystery…it is still a paradox, that I trust is true.
G. K. Chesterton said that paradox was “truth standing on her head to get attention,” and went on to add that the reason we still have so many fashionable fallacies around is because “they have no heads to stand on.”
Today, we have the opportunity to celebrate the paradox of light and the incarnation, together. Because, today is Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation. Which is one of the oldest feasts in the church, we know it was an established celebration by the early 4th century. And, like most things with that much history there’s quite a bit of mis-remembering and reinterpretation of what’s going on…So, before we dive too deeply into the paradox, let’s clear some things up.
It’s 40 days after the birth, and Mary would have completed her time of purification and rest after child-birth, and would go to the Temple to offer a purification sacrifice…on page 439 or the Book of Common Prayer you’ll find a service called, “A Thanksgiving for the Birth or Adoption of a Child,” but some of you are old enough to remember that this, for centuries, was called “The Churching of Women.” It’s essentially the same practice, of reincorporating someone who has become ritually impure back into the community.
Luke also says that they brought Jesus to “present him to the Lord, as it is written in the law,” but this seems to be Luke doing some retroactive continuity on a few select passages from the Torah, because, according to Jewish scholars, there is no law dictating that this happen, nor was it a recognized Jewish custom (Jewish Annotated New Testament, p. 102).
Luke, you’ll recall, isn’t really interested in getting Jewish law and customs correct, remember, he’s writing for a largely non-Jewish, Gentile, audience; what he wants to do is show how the light—that has come into the world—is being gradually revealed to more and more people…starting from the outside and working in…Who hears about Jesus first? The shepherds…those literally out in the dark…in the night…but now we’re no longer out on the periphery…now we’re in Jerusalem…in the Temple…at the heart and center of it all…and here we have these two wonderful elders seeing and giving voice to this living paradox among them.
Luke has Simeon and Anna see, and recognize, Jesus for who he is…and then foreshadow that this is not going to go the way anyone thinks it is…
I mean…we know how it’s going to go…there’s going to be some time in the desert…then healing, preaching…there’s going to be an arrest, and a crucifixion, and then a resurrection, ascension…we know that story…or do we? That’s another paradox…
We think we know what happened back then…but God’s story of salvation is always played out in the eternal present…so when that same story unfolds in real time…unfolds in our time…when God breaks through and shows up in real life…in our real, ordinary lives…when this same pattern of hope, call, action, joy, disappointment, death, resurrection…when that pattern unfolds in our lives, we rarely see it coming…we’re continually surprised by how it plays out.
It’s a paradox… God rarely shows up, or behaves the way we want God to show up and behave…we’re listening for a wave and miss seeing the particle, or we’re so busy searching for a particle that we miss the wave…
Simeon, and Anna are going about their daily routines, and they behold a 40 day old infant and his parents…they look…and see…salvation…they see the light…they see God…
Why can Simeon and Anna see, and others can’t. They were looking? Yes. The Holy Spirit was helping them out? Sure. It’s actually a paradox.
How do you see the light in your daily life? How do you live so that others can see the light in you? What makes it possible for you to see the light…the lights…that exist out there…the traces of God…the glimmers of grace and hope in the darkness? What helps you see?
Do you know this old saying? “No one catches the wild ass by running after him, yet only those who run after the wild ass ever catch him.” It’s a paradox. In order to catch the wild ass you have to both run after it and not run after it at the same time. In order to see God…in order to see the light…you have to both work at it, and not work at it at the same time…realize that there is absolutely nothing you can do to make it happen, and yet there are all of these practices…spiritual disciplines…that are essential. It’s a paradox
One thing that Luke makes clear about Simeon and Anna is that they are both actively practicing their faith…daily…they are devout…they are praying and fasting, and in the Temple…they are turning and learning and praying and worshiping…in other words they are practicing their faith…practicing the Way of Love. You might say that, Grace…like creativity…favors a prepared mind.
But, that doesn’t mean that all of the other devout, pious, righteous people who were also there practicing their faith, and didn’t see salvation in the form of a 40 day old infant were doing anything wrong…
God’s self-revelation is always to whomever, and wherever, and whenever God decides…it’s not up to us…but if you did see that light…if you do behold that glory…it’s because you were like Simeon and Anna…you were both prepared for it and completely caught off guard at the same time.
God’s self-revelation will always be a surprise, will always be truth standing on its head to get attention. No one who runs after it will ever see it, but only those who run after it ever will.
It’s a paradox…like light…like life…so let’s celebrate that…and keep practicing.