Rev. Andrew Cunnington
31st January 2021
A Saviour Caught Up in Our Arms

When I first set out as a Vicar there were a number of things that worried me.

Including this! When it came to my first Baptism, would I be able to hold on to the baby?

The crisis moment would surely be when the Mother of the child came to pass her little one from the safety of her maternal arms into my quivering care.

I had nightmares about the baby’s shawl or Christening robe becoming all entangled in my robes or what I thought was the baby turning out to be the long sleeves of the Mother’s new dress, and me caught up in an unintentional embrace with the potential for embarrassment all round.

And in those early days – so it proved to be from time to time.

He’s a bit of a wriggler – they would tell me.

Oh no – I used to think.

But have no fear, if you are thinking of having your baby baptised at St Matthew’s. I am much better now.

I am standing beside our Mary statue because for me it captures the big moment in our Gospel reading today.

Mary is walking in the temple on the special day of the presentation of her Son and she carries Jesus in her arms.

If you stand in front of our statue and contemplate it for a while, you will see that it is not an image of complete stillness. Mary is leaning slightly forward as if she is about to say to the one standing before her “Would you like a hold”.

And the child Jesus is not reclining peacefully in his Mother’s arms. His legs are kicking, his hands are grasping as if he would like to be taken up in the arms of another.

Simeon happens to be walking towards this Mother and her child and He immediately seems to know about His specialness.

He takes Jesus up in his arms. He does not appear to ask if he can – he just gathers up the Son of God into the folds of his workaday clothes – and it seems the babe comes willingly.

I love the imagery behind the name Simeon – it means a listener, a hearer, a receiver. And here he lives up to his name by receiving this Emmanuel child. He is the God receiver.

Hot on his heels, Anna comes up. We do not know if the baby is passed into her arms as well, but just like Simeon she too sees who this child is and begins to talk excitedly about Him to all who will listen.

I love the imagery behind the name Anna – it means one who has grace, one who gives graciously. And here she lives up to her name by passing on the Good News of his presence there. She is the God giver.

So Mary walks in the precincts of our church today and even though we are at home ,our homes are such places for we are the body of Christ right where we are this morning, and she is coming towards us, in our very path.

So we might be a church full of Simeons and Annas. God receivers and God givers.

Now both Simeon and Anna had expectations about God coming to His people in a new way – but nothing could have prepared for them for this sudden and close encounter. In the middle of an ordinary day of their lives.

Our calling is the same as there’s. To receive Him amidst the tangles and the holds of the day. To receive him , however uncertain or unprepared we are and to feel the miracle of him snuggled down in our most unworthy cradled arms.

But its not for us to cosset and cuddle and hold for all eternity as if we were a people who, having held Him, do not now want to let Him go. For the Son of God is one to be passed round so that He can be known and held by all.

Then as we listen on into this Gospel story – we notice that the shades begin to darken.

Luke’s Gospel is the one to read for all the Christmas feel good factor stories. Here is where you will find a long journey to Bethlehem and angels and shepherds and a resting place in a manger.

But now that image is shattered, for Simeon, as he holds the baby, whispers closely to Mary a way that might have made her regret she had ever bumped into Him.

“He is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel” he tells her, and then “and a sword will pierce your own soul too”.

Here are the first rumours that this child’s life will be bound up in the suffering of others.

The presentation of Christ in the temple which we celebrate today, puts God into the hands of everywoman and everyman. Not just Mary and Joseph and now Simeon and Anna – but you and I also.

Not so that we might get sweet smiles from such holy lips – or coo coo at him, but, this close up, He shares with us whatever is going on in our lives. So closely that he literally embodies our experience as His own.

The God receiver and the God giver find themselves dealing with an unrestrained God – who from now on will dance with us in the heights of our joys and dies with us in the depths of our sorrows.

In our days the temple precincts are quiet wherever we chose to place them.

Our arms are empty for much of the time.

Outside our support bubbles, we cannot gather one another up in a loving embrace – we cannot receive or give in the way which had come so natural for us that we took it all for granted.

But still He comes to us.

Still Mary comes walking with the child in her arms in the strangeness of these days and she’s right in our pathway this morning.

And this child is ready to clamber into our arms, now as then.

We can receive him and bless Him as Simeon did.

We can give of him and tell of Him as Anna did.

And even if it’s a word on the phone. A letter we might write or a card we might send. Even if it’s a delivery at the front door or an email to type – as God receivers and God givers we can be a part of the blessing he would give the world.

Those tiny hands, those tiny feet – to be held by all who will take him.

And we know this is not all talk. For within thirty years of this moment – those feet and those hands will tell the tale of the full extent of this love.

LUKE 2: 22-40