The Escape and Responsibility
The Presentation of Christ at the Temple
This past week I’ve discovered another great Channel 4 production – The Escape. In it 5 engineers are dropped in the midst of a re-created disaster zone with an ex-special forces operative and are given enough water and food to survive for 6 days. In that time they need to build some kind of vehicle from the bits of vehicles they find around them, and get to safety. I described it to Helen and she immediately commented it must be my ideal programme. Combining a bit of survival with some Engineering problem solving – I love it. The thing that did surprise me though, was it was the former Special Forces officer who demanded the others build a roll cage for one of the vehicles – to keep them safe – it’s always so easy to take shortcuts but safety is so important. It was obviously hugely important for us designing aircraft. I used to say the majority of our time was not designing an Aircraft – it was making sure it would keep working no matter what.
In Canada Engineers go through a special ceremony, when they graduate from university, called the Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer. It started after an incident where a bridge fell down twice mid-construction, killing nearly a hundred workers. The incident was seared on the conscious of Canadian Engineers as what the impact of making a mistake can be. The ceremony was written by Rudyard Kipling and is completely closed, but it is not unlike doctors taking the hippocratic oath. In the ceremony new engineers are presented with a ring. Originally the rings were made from the iron of the actual bridge which had fallen down. Engineers are then meant to wear the ring on the smallest finger of their writing hand, so that it scratches the page when they sign their name – to remind them of their obligations, their need for humility and the privilege of their position.
A couple of years ago we went to the Sikh new year celebration at London City Hall. Among the music, food and other activities, there were a number of people who were offering to tie you a turban. I’ve always been up for trying out new things – so I had a turban tied. It was remarkable how aware you are of it not like a hat, which after a few minutes you forget is there the turban is designed to be a constant reminder that you, as a sikh, have a responsibility to help others.
I had a note a couple of weeks ago, left without any name or contact details, questioning why the Christmas decorations were still up. The decorations have been left up because the season of Epiphany is very much a continuation of Christmas. It is in the realising that this baby is the light of God, taking on board of that message through the story of the wise men, the calling of the disciples, the wedding at Cana and today in the presentation of Christ at the temple. You could say that Candlemas is the end of the beginning. After forty days it is very much the end. The tree at home is looking worse for wear and there will be a lot of needles to hoover up when I take it outside this afternoon. There is of course another meaning to the word ‘end’. Not so much the end of a time, but end as the goal – in Greek Telos.
But then, what is the goal of Christmas and Epiphany. Why do we retell these stories each year. Is it only because it’s nice to get the kids to dress up as shepherds, angels, kings and sheep.
For Simeon, in today’s Gospel, the goal was clear. The telos of his life was to bear witness to the Glory of God in the baby Jesus – come to ‘reveal the light to the Gentiles.’ This was the purpose of his prayer and service in the Temple. This baby is the goal of God’s creation and of God’s plan of salvation. At the end of Today’s service we will gather round the font, where we each joined the body of Christ, the church of God, and we will extinguish hand held candles, and bless one another as members of the priesthood of all believers. After the service, we will take down the Christmas lights. By doing this we will acknowledge the completion of the Christmas feast – not that it is over – rather that we hope that it’s purposes have been achieved. That in seeing God born in a human baby in a stable. In having men from all nations come and bow before him. In hearing the disciples called. We will recognise that the Light of Christ, the one witnessed by Simeon and Anna, the light that we receive in our baptism, is contained in each of us. Not unlike the ring which Canadian Engineers wear, the re-telling of the Christmas story reminds us all that we bear the responsibility and the privilege of bearing the light of Christ in the world.
Our end, our goal as bearers of that light, is to shine it into our neighbourhoods, our communities and our city. enlightening those things which are obscured by shadow and darkness, and bringing hope and love into the places where there is none. To be Christ’s hands and to be empowered to do his work.
The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams