The Presentation of our Lord February 2, 2020

The Rev. Janet Campbell

THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

IN THE TEMPLE

Malachi 3:1-4; Psalm 84:1-6; Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-40

Christ Episcopal Church

 

“The Lord whom you seek

will suddenly come to his temple,”
wrote the prophet Malachi,

some 500 years before the

birth of Jesus.

 

The exile in Babylon

had ended.

 

The people of Israel

were coming home to Jerusalem,

rebuilding their ravaged city

and ruined temple,

renewing their identity and worship

as God’s chosen people.

 

It was a time 

of religious enthusiasm

that ultimately collapsed

in faithlessness and disappointment. 

 

The great return from exile

became a return to

the same unjust practices,

the same moral compromises,

the same hard-heartedness

as before.

 

Malachi looked for

the coming of 

a conquering God

who would finally 

set things right.

 

The feast we observe today,

The Presentation of 

Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple,

celebrates that coming,

 

God at last appearing in the temple,

but not as a triumphant overlord . . .

 

as a tiny child,

a vulnerable pilgrim 

coming in love 

to walk the road of life

beside his people. 

 

Because the feast falls

on a fixed calendar day,

February 2nd,

we don’t often 

have the opportunity

to celebrate it together on a Sunday,

in our own temple,

this house for the Church,

 

where we come 

to present ourselves 

and our offerings of bread and wine  

to the God

who came and comes

to dwell among us

to dwell within us,

in Christ,

as if we were temples ourselves.

 

The Presentation 

is one of an evocative  

succession of stories

centered on the birth of Jesus

and found only in Luke’s gospel . . .

 

Luke weaving together 

people and events and themes, 

laying the foundation

for his particular understanding

of the life, ministry,

death and resurrection of Jesus. 

[Luke: chapters 1-2]

As we move through the season

after the Epiphany 

 

the Feast of the Presentation

gives us an opportunity

to explore with Luke

the fullness of what

we celebrated at Christmas.

 

Beginning with 

The Annunciation of the angel Gabriel

to Zechariah and Elizabeth.

 

Although they were

long past child-bearing age,

they would

have a son to be named John.

 

“Even before his birth,” Luke writes,

he would be “filled with the Holy Spirit,”

and assigned a mission:

to “make ready a people 

prepared for the Lord.”     

 

(He would grow up

to be

John the Baptist,

forerunner,

preparer for the coming

of Jesus.)

 

In the sixth month

of Elizabeth’s pregnancy,

The Annunciation of the angel Gabriel 

to Mary.

 

Although she was a virgin 

and not yet married,

she would conceive and bear 

the Son of God,

to be named Jesus . . .

the Messiah,

the one sent by God 

to redeem Israel. 

(He would grow up

to be baptized by John,

and embark on his own mission:

proclaiming and enacting

the arrival of God’s kingdom

of justice and peace.)

 

The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth,

 

when, as the pregnant women embraced,

John leapt for joy in Elizabeth’s womb,

already recognizing 

in the child in Mary’s womb

the coming of the Holy One.

 

(As he would do later

when Jesus approached him

at the River Jordan.)And Mary’s song of joy,

in response to Elizabeth’s greeting,

praising the God

who chose her to bear the Son,

 

the God 

who scatters the proud

in the thoughts of their hearts,

who brings down the powerful 

from their thrones

and lifts up the lowly

who fills the hungry with good things,

and sends the rich away empty.

 

The Nativity

 

Luke’s imaginative envisioning

of the birth of Jesus,

the one 

who would accomplish those things . . .

 

in Bethlehem, the City of David –

(for where else would the Messiah be born

but in the city of Israel’s long-ago hero-king?).

 

In contrast to 

the birth of any earthly king,

in a stable,

among the animals sheltered there,

attended only by Mary and Joseph,

welcomed only by ragged shepherds 

and their smelly sheep.

 

A chorus of angels filled the skies,

revealing his divinity –

true divinity of being,

by his very nature,    

(unlike the “divine right” 

claimed by earthly kings.)

 

The naming of Jesus

eight days after his birth,

with the name 

told to Mary by Gabriel at his conception,

 

and his circumcision

according to religious law:

marking him a descendant of Abraham

and a participant in the covenant

made by God with the people of Israel

through Abraham.

 

The Presentation in the temple

 

Mary and Joseph

bring their first-born son

and their simple offering,

the smallest offering prescribed by the law,

a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons,

for they were among the lowly, the poor.

 

Luke shows us

a devout Jewish family

acting in complete accord

with Jewish religious law

and tradition.

 

Luke shows us in Jesus

the One foretold 

by the prophets of ancient Israel,

and now recognized 

in joyous encounter

by the prophets Simeon and Anna.

 

Jewish law required two witnesses

for a claim to be authenticated,

and here they are,

Simeon and Anna,

a man and, remarkably,

in that patriarchal world, a woman. 

 

In the face of that one particular infant,

one of how many first-born infants

presented there every day?,

they see, in Simeon’s ecstatic words,

“God’s salvation . . . 

prepared in the presence of all peoples,

a light for revelation to the Gentiles 

and for glory to [God’s] people Israel.”

 

God’s light, God’s salvation, God’s glory

not only for the chosen people,

but through the chosen people

for all peoples.

A revelation of God’s

expansive all-embracing love.

 

And a hint at how that love

would be expressed 

in this child destined

for the falling and rising of many

in Israel,

destined to be a sign 

that would be opposed

so that the inner thoughts of many

might be revealed . . .

 

Love expressed through

trial, self-offering and suffering . . .

 

like the piercing of a sword. 

 

The visit to the temple

ends with the return to Nazareth,

where, Luke tells us,

the infant Jesus

grew and became strong,

filled with wisdom;

and the favor of God was upon him.

 

There is one more story

in Luke’s birth narrative,

The Boy Jesus in the Temple . . . 

 

. . . for every year

the devout little family 

returned from Nazareth

to Jerusalem and the temple

along with their friends and relatives

for the festival of the Passover.

 

When Jesus was twelve,

the travelers were well on their way 

back to Nazareth

when his parents

realized he was not with the group.

 

Distraught,

they searched throughout Jerusalem

for three days . . .

 

to find him at last in the temple,

sitting among the teachers 

 and talking with them,

astonishing them with his

questions and answers . . .

 

“Why were you searching for me?”

he asked Mary,

“Did you not know that I must be 

in my Father’s house?”

 

He was coming into his own. 

 

The birth narrative concludes

as the 12-year old Jesus 

again returns to Nazareth

with his parents,

where he “increased in wisdom 

and in years,

and in divine and human favor.”

 

These two chapters

could, in a sense,

be thought of as Luke’s prologue,

 

introducing themes

that he will develop

in the rest of his gospel

 

the activity of the Holy Spirit

directing the lives of God’s people,

obedience to God’s covenant,

compassion for the poor,

the role of women 

in the community of faith,

an emphasis on the healing

and transformation

only God can bring,

the suffering of sacrificial love.

 

But perhaps the 

most important theme for us today,

in this time of resurgent anti-Semitism,

is Luke’s portrait of Jesus as a Jew.

 

From the beginning,

Luke, a gentile,

sees Jesus 

immersed in

the Jewish faith and life: 

in continuity 

with his Jewish ancestry, 

shaped and formed 

by his Jewish upbringing. 

Born in the City of David,

Named and circumcised

on the 8th  day,

Presented in the temple

on the 40th ,

Foretold by the prophets,

Recognized by Simeon and Anna,

A wise child debating Torah and theology

with the temple teachers.

 

Completely identifying himself

with his own people . . .

even though he himself

had no sin,

responding to

John the Baptist’s call

to all Israel

to a baptism of repentance

for the forgiveness of sins.

 

Completely identifying himself

with the human experience, 

divine though he was . . .

 

. . . as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote

“he had to become 

like his brothers and sisters in every respect,

so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest

in the service of God . . .

Because he himself was tested by what he suffered,

he is able to help those who are being tested.”

 

Jesus was a practicing Jew

steeped in his tradition

acting not 

to abolish his tradition

but 

 

to bring to fulfillment 

its promise of 

God’s mercy,

God’s faithfulness,

God’s redeeming love,

 

to bring to fulfillment

its imperative 

for justice and peace . . .

the salvation prepared

by God for all people, 

Jew and Gentile alike,

 

to bring to fulfillment at last

the transformation 

of the recalcitrant human heart.

When we present ourselves in this temple

to worship a practicing Jew

who was both God and human being,

who came for both Jew and Gentile,

 

may we honor and celebrate

the Jewish ancestry we share in Jesus,

 

vow to stand in solidarity

with our Jewish sisters and brothers

and advocate and act at all times 

for their 

well-being and safety

and may we open our hearts 

to God’s transforming love

that we may

participate in Jesus’ ministry 

of bringing justice and peace

to all God’s people.

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