Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 7 February 2021.
• First Reading: Malachi 3: 1-5 (I will send My messenger – then suddenly the Lord whom you are seeking will come to His temple)
• Psalm 24: 1-10
• Epistle: Hebrews 2: 14-18 (He had to be made like them, fully human, in order to … make atonement for the sins of the people)
• Gospel: Luke 2: 22-40 (Simeon’s greeting: the child destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel)
He had already been circumcised and joined with His people Israel, and now He was to be formally presented to God in a ceremony in the Temple.
The first fruits of the marriage of Mary and Joseph was also be the only-begotten of God His heavenly Father, of whom He was part and in whom His spirit was always to be incorporated.
Yet Jesus was coming to His temple as an infant, wholly depending on His earthly parents for protection and sustenance. He was almighty and everlasting, but also vulnerable and dependent on others.
This paradox would last all His life as He complied with and fulfilled a law that He had come to supersede. He would live and die faithfully under the law, while being opposed under it and eventually executed for rededicating it away from human manipulation and restoring it to the glory of God.
And it is not as if there was anything wrong or faulty with the law, for ‘the Law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring for ever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.’ (Psalm 19: 7–9).
Neither is it as if the Jews were uniquely at fault either. They had been entrusted with the revelations of God and yet like any human society were having to renew their commitment and vision in every generation and like any other human society were prone to reinterpreting and legalising a body of teaching, some so that they may focus their devotion to it, and others so that they may profit from it.
In all of this, the Jews were as given to art and industry, and to evasion and excuse as any other people upon the earth.
But then Jesus was also living out another aspect of the history of His people. He had come to His temple, first of all as an infant to obey the law. He would be back for His coming of Age, and again to take authority and to cleanse it, to teach in it, and finally to foretell its destruction.
When He healed lepers in Israel they would be sent to the chief priest to be examined and readmitted to the community of Israel.
Jesus’ ministry in proclaiming the Kingdom of God would be judged in part for His very devotion to the temple, and by the very people to whom the temple had been entrusted.
This was all part of His coming to the temple and yet it was to be only a foretaste of what was to come. After the resurrection, the gospel of salvation would be proclaimed there by His disciples who would also perform a further work of healing in His name.
So yes, in coming to be presented in the temple, Jesus was both coming home and was stepping out in a ministry to His Father and to His people.
And then when presented to the Lord, Jesus was greeted by Simeon and Anna. Both aged and committed servants of God. Simeon saw that Jesus would be the man by whom all others would be judged and in whom they would judge themselves.
Some would renew their lives and futures in Him while others would find only obstruction and confusion. Some would find blessing beyond measure and others would cycle downwards to their own final destination.
And Mary would find both a source and a fountain of blessing and revelation while she also watched as Jesus trod His path to the cross.
For us the lessons of the presentation of Jesus in the temple are subtle and perhaps understated.
In a way we are encouraged to look from the stable of Bethlehem to the road to the cross. Jesus has to be allowed to grow up in our lives and commitments.
We cannot confine Him to the manger as the sweet child, but must allow Him to grow within us as well.
Luke tells how Jesus grew personally: in physical strength, in understanding and wisdom, and wholly depending on the grace of God.
For us, we also need to dedicate the changing stages of life to Him, and likewise our learning and understanding. But more than that, just as Jesus was relying above all on His relationship with God so we also find that our growth and our perceptions of God rely on His unearned and unearnable favour and blessing.
The presentation of Jesus in the temple and the ceremonial purification of Mary was a gateway for His life and ministry. There would be much more to come.
It was certainly a ceremony that looked to the future of the infant Jesus. Maybe that is the point for us as we also seek to dedicate our futures to God in uncertain times.