Random rambling reflections from a sometimes-running rev.
Saturday, 30 January 2010
Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Forty days ago, on the first day of Christmas, we celebrated the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. Forty days later, on the last day of Christmas (2nd February or the nearest Sunday) we remember the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. This is one of the oldest celebrations that the church has; the first reports of the service go back to before we had a completed Canon of Scripture.
In July 1979 I experienced a (relatively) modern equivalent of this when my own daughter was born. My friend Elaine gave birth to her first child - a boy - a few days before, and she named him Leo. On the eighth day when he was circumcised at home by the local rabbi I suddenly realised she was jewish - it hadn't been a topic of conversation previously. Later she and her husband took the baby to the synagogue and presented him – at the same time paying a sum of money to the rabbi – to redeem Leo, their first-born son.
Link to Passover
The link here is to the original Passover, when during the final plague which God brought upon Egypt, all the first-born of Egypt died, whereas when the first-born son of each Hebrew family was saved from death. Therefore, the children spared by God belonged to him, and had to be redeemed. Exodus 13:2
“Consecrate to me every firstborn male. The first offspring of every womb among the Israelites belongs to me, whether man or animal.”
When an Israelite family redeemed their first-born son, they were acknowledging that this child belonged to God. So in an earlier version of my friend’s story, Jesus was brought to the Temple by his parents, obeying the law, and presented to God and the people.
Faithfulness – old/young,male/female
Joseph and Mary, relatively young, newly-wed, at the start of their life together, met Anna and Simeon, an older woman and – we presume - an older man. These four people had their faithfulness in common – they all listened to the voice of God, and followed the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Simeon, righteous and devout, had been led by the Holy Spirit to the temple that day. Anna had been a faithful worshipper, steeped in prayer in the temple, for eighty four yearsand was recognised as a prophetess.
Mary and Joseph had both listened to God and obeyed God’s word – they were keeping to the law. Simeon and Anna were faithful older people and I think Luke is showing us that this baby, this Messiah, was for everyone with faith, old and young.
There’s an interesting little snippet of information between the lines here, for those early readers. Simeon is the name of one of the tribes of Israel, that by this time had been mostly assimilated into the tribe of Judah, an we are told that Anna was from another of the twelve tribes - the tribe of Asher – which by then was only a remnant itself, and had been assimilated into the northern kingdom by the Assyrians 700 years before.
So reading between the lines, this message of salvation is not just for men and women, for the old and the young, but for all the tribes of Israel, and it doesn’t stop there. Our readings today confirm that the message is for all Abrahams descendents, and also ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles’ (us).
Think for a moment about the parts of the story we have heard today in our various Scripture readings. Imagine what it must have been like for all those years to be part of a people yearning, praying, longing for the day of the Messiah. We’ve heard Psalm 24 today,
“The earth is the LORD's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters”
Imagine this psalm being sung in the temple. A song from those who are waiting for their Saviour? It expresses the longing of a people for God to bring justice and righteousness in place of the evils of this world.
“Who may ascend the hill of the LORD ? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false”
Anna and Simeon were just such people, we know they were faithful, we know that they were waiting for the Lord to arrive, for the words of the psalm to be fulfilled,
“Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in”
What must it have felt like to see the fulfilment of the prophecy in Malachi 3,
“suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,”
With its accompanying promises of righteousness restored, no wonder Simeon and Anna were filled with praise when they saw the baby Jesus, the vulnerable, helpless human infant.
Psalm 24 asks us “Who is he, this King of glory?” and answers itself, “The LORD Almighty - he is the King of glory”
And yet, our Hebrews reading confirms the other side of the story, that Jesus shared in our humanity,
“made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted”
Jesus came to save us, as Hebrews tell us,
“surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants”
So, a baby, fully God and fully human is carried into the temple, and Simeon cannot help but praise the Lord, in a song that we still use regularly in our daily worship because it applies to us as well – to every one of us that opens our eyes to see the light of the world,
“"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." ”
That light, for revelation to the Gentiles (us), is the reason why we light a candle today[single candle] – to remind ourselves that our eyes too have seen salvation, that Jesus is the light for revelation to the Gentiles. So today, we light a candle as a symbol of light that Jesus offers, to show us the way, to shine into the dark places in our lives, to show us what needs to be cleaned up, and to show us how to grow I love and unity as church.
In their old age Simeon and Anna recognized him as their Lord,
These two old people, so faithful in prayer, so open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, as so many of our own older people are, are rewarded by seeing Jesus, and recognising Jesus as their Lord. No wonder they are celebrating. Wouldn’t you?
But, in the midst of the joy, as I said at the beginning, we end our Christmas celebrations with a hint of Easter. Simeon has a word of knowledge to share as he tells Mary, “A sword will pierce your soul too” and we get a sudden foretaste of the Passion to come.
But for today, we too can share the joy of Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, who have recognised that God’s light has come into the world and say, with Simeon, “My eyes have seen your salvation”
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"She did what folks wanted, then what folks didn't, then married a magician and became a priest" Well, deacon first in 2008 then on 4th July 2009, a priest in the Church of England.
"It's just a phase, she'll grow out of it". Tee hee. I've had lots of phases. Been there, done that, still here with a collection of t-shirts to show for it, although some have been recycled as cleaning cloths, and my knees don't work as well as they once did.
Have been stuffing my head with book-learning for years and years, and now have more books on the shelves that I haven't read, than that I have read. Most have been opened and extracts used in essays though :-)
I removed myself from the corporate world of proposals and projects, margin, government, governance and compliance, bits, bytes and nibbles (some of them more nippy than preferred) in 2007 after 21 years - it seemed the right time for a Right-of-Passage ;-).