Luke 2:22-40 – December 27, 2020
A message from the Rev. Dr. Linda Flatley
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Here we read how the Holy Family kept their commitment to God and were obedient and complied with the law by observing these ancient ceremonies. Circumcision was required at 8 days, then redemption of the firstborn after 31 days, and for Mary purification after childbirth. Purification would have taken place 40 days after the birth of Jesus, twice as long if you had given birth to a girl. These laws date back to Leviticus, Exodus, Numbers and don’t really concern us today because Jesus freed us from those burdensome laws. As Calvin, one of our Reformers wrote, “A Christian is free from the law to obey it”
Mary and Joseph were too poor to bring the required offering of a lamb to the temple for the burnt offering and a young pigeon for a sin offering. They offered two pigeons instead which was called the Offering of the Poor. Reminding us again that Jesus came from lowly beginnings. At the end of his life he became the sacrificial lamb for all of us.
The Holy Family kept their divine appointment with the temple because of the vows they had taken: the covenant requirements of Jewish law. Because of their faithfulness prophecies were fulfilled and should have left no doubt, no question that Jesus was the expected Messiah.
Two elders in the temple that day had been waiting a long time. Both prophets, Anna, and Simeon were blessed by a God appointment to be in the presence of the Holy Family. We might call it a divine conjunction.
For Simeon the Spirit guided him to be there that day, a prompting of the Spirit to be there at the exact time of the Holy Family’s visit and through the Spirit he recognizes that the consolation of Israel is here. The consolation of Israel is the restoration of the people that was prophesied through the prophet Isaiah was now being fulfilled,
“Comfort, o comfort my people… the Lord has comforted his people, redeemed Jerusalem”. (Isaiah 40, 50, 51)
For Simeon personally he had received a prophetic word that he would not die before seeing the Messiah. Simeon sweeps up the babe in his arms and marvels at those prophecies fulfilled. He can hardly believe his eyes. He tells us that the Messiah was sent for Israel’s salvation and as a light for revelation to the Gentiles. Us!
I pray we have been a light to the Gentiles especially during this dark pandemic time as we lit up the chapel each day during Advent . Our own wise men stood in the cold chapel parking lot for a few hours directing traffic and keeping watch over the nativity scene. The Open Door Christmas Eve drive through was a visual and symbol of Christ’s invitation to all people. Whether 2 or 200 vehicles drove through we prayed the lights and story it represented would be a blessing to the community.
The Prophet Anna also gives her blessing. She is a widow in her 80s and never ceased to hope and pray and worship. It sounds as if she lived at the temple. After seeing the Christ Child Simeon has been released from his waiting, Anna on the other hand takes on a new ministry to tell all who would listen. She proclaims the good news of “God with us”.
There is one author who has made his living writing the true stories of divine interventions: the author Squire Rushnell. He calls God coincidences or God appointments, “Godwinks”. He writes about those times in life that we’ve probably all experienced when God winks at you making incredible things happen. Special times when you know that an event or situation is no accident or happenstance. Hear now one of his stories from When God Winks at You.
For John thomas Oaks, who spells his middle name in lowercase, the music of the church has always been “uppercase” in his life. John was in a band that played in the NYC coffee shops. During one of his performances he noticed a woman’s voice had joined his.
“I hope you don’t mind me joining in,” said the woman.
No, No” said John, “Glad to have the company. Would you like to sing something yourself?”
“Do you know any hymns?” she asked.
“I cut my teeth on hymns. Name one?”
“Oh, I don’t know. You pick one,” said the woman.
“How about ‘His Eye is on the Sparrow’?”
She hesitated then agreed to sing it. John accompanied her as she sang the hymn. After the applause she told John she was hesitant to sing this particular hymn because it was her daughter’s favorite hymn. She was 16 and had died the previous week from a brain tumor. Of all the hymns John could have picked.
This is a story of a God appointment that blessed them both. Life is really one continuous God appointment, discerning guidance from the Spirit. God is present and active in every life but for those who have the eyes to see and ears to hear on them the favor of God rests. The grace of God can be seen at work in their lives. Anna and Simeon were the Quiet in the Land waiting quietly and patiently.
As believers why would we not expect God appointments? Sunday is always a God appointment for us and this morning we witnessed a ritual and ceremony of our church to ordain and install ruling elders. No burdensome sacrifices to make only vows to keep the rule of Christ’s love.
These vows and prayers and blessings and actions is a God appointment we remember for the rest of our lives. Jesus was presented in the temple at Jerusalem, we who follow are to remember that our bodies are temples of the holy spirit. In our lives let us strive to present Jesus to others. We are Christ’s presence in the world by God-appointment. Amen
Let us pray. Listening God, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts to direct and rule us according to your will, and lead us into all truth through Jesus Christ our Lord.