Sunday, February 2, 2020
Presentation of Our Lord
Prayer of the Day
Almighty and ever-living God, your only-begotten Son was presented this day in the temple. May we be presented to you with clean and pure hearts by the same Jesus Christ, our great high priest, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Readings and Psalms
Malachi 3:1-4 My messenger is a refiner and purifier
Hebrews 2:14-18 Jesus shares human flesh and sufferings
Luke 2:22-40 The child is brought to the temple
Title: Seeing Salvation
Well this could be a confusing day. Especially if some overly creative pastor tries to create a children’s sermon linking the two holidays being honored today. I can see the temptation. In both cases you have old men, steeped in tradition, holding up something cuddly that is a symbol with deeper meaning, a sign that is pointing to the future. Predictions are made. But of course, considering the conflating mind of child, you can imagine some church-attending children returning to their seats thinking: “So Jesus came to the temple, some guy held him up, and since he saw his shadow, there is going to be six more weeks of winter?
(You laugh, but somewhere, this is happening.)
Of course, today is that silliest of holidays – Groundhog Day – when poor Punxsutawney Phil, and Staten Island Chuck, and other wood chucks are dragged out of their dens and forced to give a completely unscientific and (statistics show) completely unreliable forecast regarding the coming of spring. Turns out this was brought over by German immigrants who, in the old country, looked to the badger for such predictions – sees his shadow goes back into his den for six more weeks of winter, doesn’t see his shadow, stays and spring is right around the corner.
Of course, the other feast day is the Presentation of Our Lord – marking the day that the 40-day old Jesus was brought to the temple as dictated by Jewish Law. As noted on the front of your bulletin, it is also called Candlemas.
All joking and confusing the kids aside, it turns out the Germans were very intentional in linking these two celebrations because there was an old superstition that a clear Candlemas meant a longer winter. Somewhere along the line badgers and wood chucks were enlisted as unwilling participants in this superstitious weather forecasting.
But enough about Punxsutawney Phil and old men in top hats looking for a weather prediction, let’s get back to Jerusalem and an old man with his flowing beard and his eyes filled with hope and looking for hope – hope for much more than favorable weather. What were those eyes seeing? And let’s not forget the eyes of Anna, as well.
Theirs are the eyes that look all the way back to the garden. Tears stream when they consider what was lost with that apple bite and the resulting loss of the perfection God intended. They come to the temple seeking just a glimpse, just a hint of a blade of grass or a budding flower that will assure them that somewhere, on some plane, it all still exists, it all still waits. And a return is possible for the ones for gave it all up for a chance to be like God, gave it all away for the empty promise of control and power.
Their eyes looked back over a history that showed just how vacuously empty that promise was, how misguided that desire was, how downward the spiral had continued through the ages. The history of their people and all people showed that, not only was nothing gained from that ambitious bite, but everything was lost, and the losing continued. How much lower could humanity go?
The eyes of Simeon and Anna looked out over a long communal history of faithless endeavors, neglect of the poor, failure of their justice systems, manipulation by the powerful, and so little to no trust in their God. And their ears kept hearing the crunch of the apple and the slam of the gate. And their hearts kept longing for peace.
But the two of them, the old man and the widow, stayed in temple. They revisited again and again the moments in the past when, in spite of that first forsaking act by the creature and all that followed, the Creator acted with graciousness and mercy, was slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. They joined their people in remembering the call to the forebearers, the deliverance from slavery, the return from exile, the preservation when all seemed lost. Even in the midst of an occupied city, they came day after day to the temple continuing to search for signs. Signs of the presence of God continuing to be in their midst. Signs that the promise of salvation was still alive.
What did those aged eyes expect to behold when the promise was fulfilled, and the salvation of the Lord would come to the Holy Temple? Would the arrival be true to the prophet Malachi’s vision? Would they be knocked off their feet because “who can stand at his coming”? Would they even live long enough to appreciate what God had sent, after all “who can endure the day of God’s coming?” If he comes as a refiner’s fire it sounds quite destructive. Sure, gold and silver are refined in fire, but flesh is eaten up by flames. Or would he be rough like those fullers who take dirty wool and use harsh soap and bleach to get it white? They literally stomp on it to get it clean. What would this day of promise fulfilled be like?
Then that little peasant family comes into the Temple grounds. They could be any-bodies, they could be nobodies. They could be lost in the throngs of daily visitors. They could be overlooked by even these two with eyes that have been searching for so long. But the Spirit fills Simeon and Anna. And they see a promise fulfilled. They see a light shining whatever their darkness. They see the one long hoped for. They see life. They see love. They see God. Not recreating the garden but coming to those who have been expelled from the garden. God comes to the ones enslaved, the exiles, the disobedient, the rebellious. The God of life comes to those dead to sin. How can these two watchers do anything else but rejoice for what their eyes see and what their spirits are being told.
And in that moment of joy, Simeon sings a song. Oh, how he sings. Singing is what one does in these early chapters of Luke when faced with the overwhelming goodness of God. In fact, Simeon’s is the fourth and final song included in these first two chapters of Luke’s gospel that cover this great manifestation of God’s mercy and grace in the coming of the Messiah, our Savior, the Incarnate Word of God.
Zachariah sings when he sees a promised fulfilled in the face of his baby son John who will be the Baptist. Mary sings when she sees her cousin Elizabeth confirms what the angel promised her, that she will bear God’s son. The angels sing to the shepherds when they witness what God is doing for creation by incarnating the word in that Bethlehem babe. And now Simeon sings when he, too sees a promise fulfilled, sees a God who has come to live among the creatures.
All four of these songs of fulfillment are used in our liturgies. Zachariah’s song – the Benedictus – is included in morning prayer when we are looking into the face of the promise of a new day. Mary’s song – the Magnificat – is sung in evening prayer after a day filled with confirmation of God’s promises. The angel’s song – the Gloria – is the traditional hymn of praise in the Mass. (We sang it this morning) We sing as we gather, we who are witnesses to the fulfilling goodness of God. And Simeon’s – the Nunc Dimittus – will be sung after we have received communion. After we have seen the salvation God promises, after we have tasted that the Lord is good, after we have held the presence of Christ in our hands.
Whether you see shadows or bright sun, whether you see winter’s death or spring’s rebirth, whether you question God’s timing or behold God’s fulfillment, wherever you are today, know that we no longer wait, God is fulfilling God’s promise – in Christ, God has brought us new light, new hope, new life. And in this newness, we, the servants of God, are dismissed to share it with the world. Join the eternal song of praise, blessing, magnifying, giving glory to God, for this fulfilling God is truly worthy of praise in every season.
The Rev. Mark Erson,