Today is the churches celebration of Candlemass it is one we inherited from the Roman Catholic Church where they have a candlelit procession and celebrate the 40 days since Jesus birth and his presentation in the temple. It was the day that Mary and Joseph went to the temple for her ritual purification following childbirth and until fairly recently was a common service in the Anglican Church known as the Churching of Women.
It is also the 4th Sunday of Epiphany where we are following the gospel story told by Mark, so I will attempt to link the 2 readings together.
First of all we have Mary and Joseph turning up to the local Temple to fulfil the Jewish law, but that day the routine event had a strange happening. For in the temple that day were two elderly people. Anna who had been there for years, praying for the coming of the Messiah and Simeon who had been led there by the Holy Spirit who had told him he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. He saw Mary and Joseph and their baby and he took Jesus in his arms – and he knew. He knew he had in his arms the salvation of the world and so he was ready to go. Ready to leave the world to a greater divine power than he had dreamed or prayed for. It was Simeon who gave us with the wonderful Nunc Dimitus often said at Evening Prayer and at funerals an assurance that it is never too late to see the glory of God and that we are never too old to embrace Jesus.
So the curtain falls on the infant Jesus except for one brief glimpse of his boyhood when he was found in the temple aged 12.
Mark launches his gospel with the Baptism of Jesus and the next time we see him is in our reading where he is recognised by an unclean spirit.
They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ 25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ 26And the unclean spirit, throwing him into convulsions and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.
The church today seems to have difficulty talking about evil and evil spirits unlike our predecessors who were a little obsessed with evil.
Yet our language says more about us that we
often admit to:
I don’t know what got into me.
Whatever possessed you to do that?
What the devil do you mean by doing that?
He was beside himself
We speak as if something or someone had for a
moment caused them or us to do something out
of character – as if we were not in control – or
something else was.
In the secular world there is an obsession with the
occult, with films like the Exorcist, Damien the Omen
and I am sure many more. Books about black magic
abound, yet in the church we tend to shy away from
talking about evil spirits.
I am not talking about being naughty – the teenager who sprays graffiti
on the wall, or the tempting adverts that make us spend money we don’t have
or even driving at 40 miles per hour in a 30 limit. These things may be wrong but not intrinsically evil.
I am talking about evil. Where we see hatred for mankind, lust for power and greed that destroys lives. In a week where we have been urged to remember the Holocaust it is not difficult. There is a catalogue of names that we could add to the list from the previous century let alone going further back into history.
What do we do then? Do we dismiss all thought of the reality of evil, and call it an absence of good or blame everything on human weakness compounded by their environment? We can debate the matter for hours but the fact remains that Jesus believed in the reality of evil. He talked about the evil Prince of this world and the powers of darkness. Many will say that he was conditioned by the beliefs of his time – but the challenge is if we dismiss this teaching and practice why should we believe the rest.
Jesus enters his ministry with authority and we will see him
calm the storms of nature
calm the torments of the mind
bring healing to the broken in body mind and spirit
and bring the dead to life
However not every storm will be stilled not every blind person given sight not every leper cleansed and most of those who died stayed dead. Yet every time we have an account of Jesus encountering an evil spirit Jesus responds and sends them packing. Later in his ministry he will send his disciples out on a mission with power to do the same – remember their excitement when they returned ‘Even the spirits were subject to us’
What was it that moved Jesus to heal those disturbed by evil spirits? I believe it is because
evil is an intrusion in our lives – and causes pain and destruction
evil trespasses on our free will and cripples our ability to serve God
evil fills us with fear and doubt making lives miserable
But we are not to be frightened – Jesus teaches us that wherever evil is, there is also the David who stands up in the name of the living God to defeat the Goliath.
We live in a world where bad things happen. Things that we cannot explain, things we wish and pray with all our heart we could make better but it is not possible. Yet we have the joy and privilege of having the Holy Spirit of Jesus journeying with us. Emmanuel – God with us.
We need to know and believe that Jesus who is in us is greater than any evil in the world.
We need to know and believe that Jesus’ love in us will conquer any fear we might have.
We need to know and believe that he promised to help us carry whatever is weighing us down.
He said ‘Come unto me all who are burdened and weighed down and I will help you carry your load.’
The final word comes from St. Paul – one we need to store in our hearts ‘Greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world’ and that ‘we are more than conquerors though him that loves us.’