December 30, 2018
This story from Luke is not one we focus on all that often. (Maybe only once a year, and only if there’s enough time between Christmas and Epiphany!) We certainly don’t think of it as much as we do the angels and shepherds and wise men. But I love this story! It’s the story about the first time Jesus was “out in public.” Or at least it’s the first time Luke tells us about.
I love it because it reminds me of a time in my own life. It was in November, 1985, and it was the first time I brought my daughter Jenny to Church. She was only a few days old, and I arranged to have her brought into the building, in “stealth mode,” to the room behind the chancel. Then, with the organ playing, I got to walk out into the sanctuary holding her. It was a great moment! As I’m sure you can imagine!
Well, here in this story, Mary and Joseph were bringing their “first born” to the Temple, for the first time. And I imagine it was a similar scene! They had brought Jesus there for his “dedication,” which was part of the Jewish tradition. And Luke gives us some of the scriptures and “requirements” that were part of that tradition. Jesus was a first born male, and there were certain things they had to do concerning that, too.
Luke tells us, “It say in the Law, ‘Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.’” And then he tells us what was required. They were “to offer a sacrifice “according to what is said in the law of the Lord, ‘A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.’” You can read all of that in Leviticus 12.
So this was all part of the Jewish tradition. It was spelled out for them in their scriptures. So, what was to happen that day was all very much expected. But, it was all about to change. Like many other events in Jesus’ lifetime, this one turned out to be much different than expected!
When Mary and Joseph entered the Temple, they met this man named “Simeon.” And Simeon had been told by God that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah! So when Mary and Joseph came in, Simeon grabs the kid – excuse me, he “took Jesus up in his arms” – and he “blessed God, saying,”
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word;
for mine eyes have seen thy salvation
which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to thy people Israel.”
Can you imagine what the people thought at that moment? Was there a sudden silence, with everyone looking on? Or was this all just a quiet conversation between Simeon and Mary and Joseph? I think it was probably more that sudden silence! I think there was a hush with people astonished by what was said. And I think they were really astonished about that last line he said, that line about the “Revelation to the Gentiles!” That was a bit shocking! Yet, sometime, in the not too distant future, (although we’ll be celebrating it next week) a bunch of Gentiles would come seeking this Messiah.
Then, if that wasn’t enough, Simeon continued.
“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign that is spoken against
(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also),
that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”
I have to think of that song we heard just a little while ago. “Mary did you know.” “Mary did you know all” of these important and amazing things were going to happen to “this little child you’re holding?” Can you imagine what she was thinking there in the Temple that day?
And what did the people think? Did they ponder these words, “Keeping them in their hearts,” as we’re told Mary did? Did the silence continue? Or, did they all start talking at once, questioning what they meant? “What was so special about this child?” “His family certainly seemed ‘unremarkable.’”
So, as if that scene needed anything more, Luke tells us about this woman, this “prophetess” named Anna, who came in and “spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.”
If you think about it, up until now, some shepherds had heard news about this birth, but that was about all. Now, others were hearing about it, others were witnessing it, others were seeing the baby and hearing the prophecies. The news was getting out!
Of course it would take three decades for all of that to happen. This baby had to grow up first. Many of the people there that day wouldn’t live to see it. But I wonder what they would tell to their sons and daughters. And when those children heard Jesus himself speak in the temple, years later, would they say among themselves, “Is this the one our parents told us about when we were young?” “Is this the one who was dedicated here in this very building, the one who they said would redeem Israel?”
What about those who would live to see that day? What would the people think who were there this day and years later heard this Jesus speaking to them in that same Temple.
Those are the thoughts I want to leave with you. And perhaps you might think of your own experiences in the Church. Maybe you were raised in the church and can remember yourself or your siblings being baptized and being raised in the church. Maybe you can remember the people who surrounded you. And maybe all of that can help you think of this child, brought to the Temple that day, who would later became the one who would speak in that same Temple, who would show us all God’s amazing love, and who would indeed “redeem the world.”
We are part of all that! Like the people then, we to can say, “We have beheld his glory, glory as of the only son from the father.”
Eternal God, we thank you for your great love for us. We thank you for sending your son, Jesus the Christ, into the world so long ago, and into our world even today. Help us to think about what it was like then, and how our lives have been changed by that child of Bethlehem, even all these many centuries later. These things we pray in his name, Amen.