Sermon delivered by the Rev Sydney Maitland
I suppose that every mother wonders what the future holds for her newly-born children, especially the first-born.
There will be the expectations of the extended family, especially the grandparents, and then in a small village a new baby is everybody’s business.
Then there will be questions about how the child will get on at school, what he or she will choose as an occupation and of course as a partner in life for the begetting of their own children.
Mary and Joseph however were performing a rite required by the ancient law of Israel in presenting Jesus to God and as required, they brought Him to the temple for that purpose. It was not that God was not everywhere, but the temple was the location designated for this special religious and family observance.
It was normally a simple ceremony and a sacrifice was prescribed. What was not scripted however was the reception that awaited them in the persons of Simeon and of Anna.
And here the issues of childhood were somehow overtaken by other questions such as creation, life, death and reconciliation with God: simple stuff like that.
Here the person and purpose of Jesus’ life entered a different scale of values and of activity. This baby would grow up to face a destiny and a vocation that really would change the world.
For the God who has spoken, had in the power of His Word accomplished the things that He had willed. And that Word was not only with God, but it was God as well. And that Word had now submitted to the dimensions and perceptions of a baby who would grow into a man.
But if He was to save the world, He would save it for all babies by having been one Himself. He would save it for all the unborn, whether carried to term or unnaturally terminated, by hazarding the womb Himself.
He would save all children and adolescents and adults by having been one Himself, and having undergone the same hazards and temptations and issues and questions Himself.
So Jesus would accomplish a work that would transform human history, geography, philosophy, and all aspects of law and governance.
For the Lord would come to His temple, and to His people and He would speak forth. He would not only open to the people the counsels of God insofar as they could receive them, but He would respond to the people as God Himself would respond to them.
So He would reveal the hidden thoughts and motives of those who manoeuvered; He would heal and forgive those who were sick of heart and of soul, in their emotions and relationships, and in their dealings with those around them.
He would reckon with the Roman occupiers and with the Temple authorities, without compromise but equally without rancour or gratuitous offense. He would criticize those who were powerful and He would expose the fallaciousness of their arguments and practices.
Finally Jesus would square up to the greatest unknown and yet the most implacable enemy of humanity of all: death. He would go to the cross, wholly trusting in the will of God His Father and so without fear of what lay beyond.
He would face that greatest unknown of all, and He would know it as it had never been known before.
Jesus would meet the author of all condemnation, of all decay and destruction, and He would strip him of his power to intimidate and condemn and to corrupt.
Jesus would meet the powers of darkness and of Satan and He would destroy their false authority. Their insinuations and their distortions and their deceptions would be reduced to size.
Those who wished to continue in the false prospectuses of death and of godlessness would not be prevented, but neither would they be compelled to choose them.
Small wonder then that there are still powers of death and of deception that remain implacably opposed to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Small wonder also that while it is still the task and calling of the church to proclaim the gospel message of forgiveness, of life and hope, that it is also opposed by the same forces of darkness as tried to undermine Jesus.
But Jesus gave the church the responsibility to proclaim what He had already achieved. So long as it lives as Jesus’ body, and is filled with the same Spirit as filled Jesus, then it will continue faithfully in these tasks.
Of course, it could reduce itself to a power structure, like any other organization: moved by procedures and performance targets, promotion ladders, orders of prestige and schemes of organizational reform.
It may even be moderately successful as a kind of theological corporation.
But filled with the life of Jesus, empowered by His Holy Spirit and faithful to its witness it will be effective beyond the reckoning of any kind of prison bars, persecutions or threats of death.
After all, Jesus had already dealt with that, and done so very effectively.