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On Christmas Eve, we beheld Him lying in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes.
On Christmas morning, we beheld dwelling among us, wrapped in human flesh.
Now today, we behold Him in the temple, wrapped in the arms of man named Simeon.
Our gospel reading takes place 40 days after Christmas. Joseph and Mary bring their 40 day old baby to the Temple. To make a long story short, they are doing what believers do. If you are new parents, the 40th day after your baby is born, there are two things that you are required to do, according to the Law of Moses.
1st, you bring yourself to the temple for purification. In a way, you have participated in Adam and Eveâ€™s guilt by bringing a sinner into the world. So, God teaches and reminds His people about the doctrine of â€˜original sinâ€™ through this â€˜liturgical form.â€™
Parents come to the Temple on the 40th day for purification from sin and guilt. God teaches and reminds His people about the doctrine of â€˜forgivenessâ€™ through this â€˜liturgical form.â€™ Waiting for 40 days connects you to the flood of Noah where God purified a sinful and guilty world in 40 days.
The 2nd thing that is going on here has to do with the doctrine of â€œredemption.â€ God teaches and reminds His people about the doctrine of â€œredemptionâ€ in this â€˜liturgical form.â€™ To â€œredeemâ€ means to â€˜buy back.â€™ In remembrance of the Passover, â€œevery firstborn male is to be set aside for the Lord.â€ If you want to keep your baby, he must be â€˜redeemed.â€™ And the â€˜redemption priceâ€™ was a lamb, or if you were poor, two turtledoves.
This little â€˜object lessonâ€™ that Israel would enact in â€˜liturgical formâ€™ at the Temple, would prepare the them for the coming of the Redeemer who will Redeem them, not with lambs or turtledoves but with His own, precious blood.
So, when Luke says that when the time had come for â€œtheir purification,â€ he means Maryâ€™s purification and Jesusâ€™ redemption.
And hereâ€™s where the whole thing goes from great â€˜catechesisâ€™ to profound â€˜mystery.â€™
This is profound mystery because we know that Mary has NOT given birth to a sinner, but the only sinless baby ever born. In fact, through childbirth, Mary brings into the world the One who Himself will cure the curse of original sin for every sinner ever born.
What a profound mystery that Mary should come to the temple to be purified, but the child whom she brings is the Temple, who will purify her.
And then there is the redemption of the firstborn son. Again, the mystery is profound. This firstborn son of Mary is the only-begotten Son of the Father, who will Himself be the â€˜redemption priceâ€™ that God will pay to redeem the whole world.
So, itâ€™s no wonder that as Joseph and Mary enter the Temple some remarkable things happens. They came to the Temple much like we came to Church this morning. Itâ€™s just what believers do. But for them, â€œthe time had fully come.â€ The fuse that was lit all the back in the Garden of Eden had burned its way through history and finally reached the dynamite. â€œGod sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive the adoption as sons.â€ (Gal.4:4-5)
Joseph and Mary are met by two people at the Temple, a man named Simeon and a woman named Anna. They were on the schedule to be â€œGreetersâ€ that day.
Anna, we are told, is of the ripe old age of 84. She has had her share of sorrow and pain having been widowed after only seven years of marriage.
As for Simeon, weâ€™re told that he is â€œrighteous, devout and waiting for the consolation of Israel and the Holy Spirit was upon him.â€ He sounds like one of the elders of this congregation.
Simeon and Anna represent all of those who have been faithfully waiting for the â€œtime to fully comeâ€ for God to fulfill His promise to send a Messiah.
Simeon knows that he is living in the â€œfullness of time,â€ because the Holy Spirit has somehow told him that he was not going to die until he saw the â€œconsolation of Israel.â€
Weâ€™re not told how long Simeon had known this. Had he known it for a long time or was it just recently that the Holy Spirit had made him aware of this?
Either way, Simeon believes what he has been told. Thatâ€™s what Luke means when he says that Simeon was â€œrighteous.â€ In the bible, someone is called â€˜righteous,â€™ not because theyâ€™re perfect and sinless, but because they believe the promise of God. â€œAbraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.â€
And being â€˜righteous,â€™ Simeon goes to the Temple on a regular basis. Thatâ€™s what Luke means when he says that Simeon was â€˜devout.â€™ He was at the Temple a lot. â€œRighteous and devoutâ€ always goes together.
And then one day, a young couple entered the Temple with their baby boy. And Simeon was there. And the Holy Spirit somehow told Simeon, â€œthis is the One.â€ And â€œHe took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, â€œLord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word.â€
â€œDepart in peace.â€ Familiar words that we always hear after we receive the Lordâ€™s Supper. Maybe you thought â€œdepart in peaceâ€ meant that it time leave the railing and return to your seat. But no, these are Simeonâ€™s words and they mean, â€˜now you may die in peace.â€™ For like Simeon, you too have just held the Jesus in your hands.
Someone once put it like this, â€œwe go to the sacrament as though we were going to our death – so that we may go to our death as though we were going to the sacrament.â€
But thereâ€™s never a â€œLordâ€™s Supperâ€ without a sermon. So Simeon preaches a marvelous sermon as he holds the baby Jesus in his arms. As a preacher who wants to â€˜preach Christâ€™ in every sermon I write, its hard for me to imagine what it must have been like for Simeon to â€˜preach Christâ€™ while holding the baby Jesus in his arms.
â€œMy eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples. A light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for the glory of your people Israel.â€
Simeon preaches Christ, not as example for us to imitate or civil leader who will bring political reform.
â€¢ He preached Christ, the Savior whom God prepared before the foundation of the world;
â€¢ He preached Christ, the Savior, not for a chosen few but for all peoples, from every nation, tribe and language.
â€¢ He preached Christ, the One who reveals the salvation of God to THE GENTILES who know nothing of Godâ€™s Word;
â€¢ He preached Christ, the One who glorifies THE JEWS who have lived by faith and waited for this One to come.
â€œAnd his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him.â€
Joseph and Mary knew who this baby was. The angel Gabriel told each of them personally. To Mary he said, â€œyou will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord will give to him the throne of His Father David, and of his kingdom there will be no end.â€ (Luke 1:31-33).
And to Joseph, â€œâ€¦for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.â€ (Mat.1:21)
They knew who He was, and yet still, as they hear this sermon from Simeon about their son, they â€œmarveled at what was said about him.â€ Itâ€™s like that for us too. We know who Jesus is. We know that He is the Redeemer and the Savior. And yet we love to hear Christ preached, over and over again. And every time, we â€˜marvel at what is said about him.â€™
And since no preaching of Christ is complete without the preaching of the cross, Simeon says, â€œBehold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed and a sword will pierce through your own soul also, to that the thoughts from many hearts may be exposed.â€
Have you ever wondered why only these two people in the Temple that day recognized the baby and greeted the holy family like this? What about the priests and rabbis and the Scribes and Pharisees? All they saw was a couple with a baby, and nothing more. The only reason that Simeon and Anna saw what the saw was because of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise they wouldnâ€™t have recognized Jesus either.
I think that explains a lot about why some recognize Jesus as Redeemer and Savior of the world and others see nothing more than a man with some crazy ideas and an inflated opinion of Himself.
The truth is, He is either one of the other. He is the â€˜crucialâ€™ one and what you think about Him is â€˜crucial.â€™ Men and women will either â€˜fallâ€™ or â€˜riseâ€™ on Him and His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead. The cross is the â€˜cruxâ€™ of the matter. It is a sign that is either â€œopposedâ€ or â€œembraced.â€
For those who believe that they are basically â€˜goodâ€™ and that God saves â€˜goodâ€™ people, the cross is â€˜OPPOSEDâ€™ because it declares that all of their â€˜goodnessâ€™ didnâ€™t amount to anything, or at least not enough.
For others, who believe that they havenâ€™t got a leg to stand on before God, the â€˜signâ€™ of the cross is â€˜WELCOMEDâ€™ because by it, Christ has reconciled the Father to them by His blood, God Himself affirming it by raising Him from the dead.
Either way, the cross of Christ is the â€˜signâ€™ that exposes the thoughts of every heart about God.
And Mary is no exception. Just because she is the mother of Jesus doesnâ€™t mean that she will not also be confronted by the cross of Christ crucified. But for Mary, it will be particularly painful. Any mother who has ever had to bury her own son knows something of the sword that pierced Maryâ€™s heart.
And in a way, we all share Maryâ€™s pain. Jesus is our Brother who is mocked and flogged and crucified. And it is because of our sin that He is subject to such abuse. We are the ones who have driven Him to this terrible death. It is our guilt and sin and shame before God that He bears. Every time we hear preaching about Christ and Him crucified, â€˜a sword pierces our soulâ€™ too.
It may seem like weâ€™re getting ahead of ourselves here. He is, after all, just an infant, only 40 days old. Yet even here, He is not known apart from His cross. It is how He will â€œredeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption as sons.â€
After the sermon concludes, Anna shows us, catechizes us, through â€˜liturgical form,â€™ how we respond to the Presentation of our Lord. â€œShe began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.â€