... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

The Presentation of the Lord
Message February 02, 2014

Jesus Revealed

Text: Luke 2:22-40

Today we interrupt the Sundays after Epiphany to celebrate the Presentation of the Lord. Only Luke’s Gospel gives us an account of Jesus’ presentation as prescribed by Jewish Law for every Jewish boy. As the story unfolds we see that despite his complete humanity, his complete Jewish heritage and his complete adherence to Jewish Law, Jesus is someone altogether different. Despite his poverty and his humble appearance we find here the work of God’s hand in accomplishing salvation for all humans.

Humans have a tendency to discriminate in all aspects of our lives. Perhaps this is a throwback to earlier survival techniques which kept friends and family close while non-friends and strangers at bay. Unfortunately this discrimination has led to many abuses power inequalities and fears in general. And the Jewish people were not immune to this fault. In fact they were very much active in their discrimination as to whom was a Jew and who wasn’t; who was part of the chosen of Israel and who wasn’t and who was a real descendent of Abraham and who wasn’t. Into this milieu God sends Jesus not only as a wake up for the children of Israel but as a beacon of light to the Gentiles and indeed the whole of humankind.

I remember as a boy in cubs, clustering in circles playing a game similar to Red Rover Red Rover. The idea was to keep the circle intact. While we were thus engaged the leaders actually drew a circle on the floor around all eight sixes, the lesson being that while we were doing circles to keep others out, a larger circle was being drawn to keep us in. so God was drawing a circle to include us all. But to do so the circle had first to adhere to the origins of the covenant. Thus we witness the keeping of covenant as the Jewish Law required. The piety of Mary and Joseph in presenting their son “Jesus” as prescribed sets the stage for the declaration and prophecies of Simeon and Anna.

Three ceremonies were required by Jewish Law following the birth of a son – first the son had to be circumcised on the 8th day and so sacred was this ceremony that it could be done even on a Sabbath , the day when pretty well every other act or duty was prohibited. This rite was an acknowledgement of the covenant God made with Abraham when he was obedient to offer up Isaac and when God substituted a ram in his stead. The circumcision was an outward sign of the covenanted people. The second ceremony as required was the redemption of the First-born. According to the Law every first born was sacred and belonged to God and to God the first born was always dedicated. Whether this had to do with sacrifices as per Abraham, or the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt and the final plague, or the tradition of service in the Temple, is all of historical conjecture. The law allowed for the redemption, i.e. the buy back by the parents of their son as opposed to the alternatives. The usual sum for the redemption was set at five shekels of silver. Considering at present a ½ shekel coin is about 25 cents, 5 shekels would be $2.50. Not much to our thought but consider this a day’s labour would yield only 1 cent. In this light $2.50 would represent almost an entire year’s income. The third ceremony was the purification after child birth, a rite by which the mother would again be made ritually clean and allowed once again to live in Jewish society. The price of this was a lamb for a burnt offering and a pigeon for a sin offering or, if one couldn’t afford a lamb, a pigeon would be acceptable. Thus being poor, Joseph and Mary brought the two young pigeons. Together these three ceremonies highlight the identity of Jesus as totally human and totally in the line of the Jewish King David – important elements for Luke. It also highlights the location of God’s action within the ritualistic and liturgical location of place of worship: Temple and Jerusalem – another motif important in Luke’s theological treatment of God’s salvific action.

Having set the stage Luke now introduces Simeon, a good and pious man who longed for the consolation of Israel, that is the reprieve of the nation, the turn of its fortunes and the presence of God again within the life of the people. According to Luke, Simeon had been blessed with a fore vision that he would see the Messiah before he would die, and so was guided to the Temple when Jesus had been brought up for the ceremonies of presentation and purification. On beholding the infant Simeon utters those famous words of the Nunc Dimittis, thus identifying Jesus as the Messiah – the glory of Israel and the light of revelation to the Gentiles.

While these words were of hope to the nation and all present – what the people expected of the Messiah varied greatly. Some had hoped for a warrior king who would amass a great army, defeat the occupying Roman armies and restore Israel as an economic and political power in the world. Other saw in the Messiah a return to the austere and legalized religion of the past and others saw a peace and tranquility ordained and orchestrated by God. Whatever the people hoped the Messiah would bring, Simeon saw beyond them all, and having declared Jesus as the Messiah proceeded to warn of what he would bring – the falling and rising of many, the acceptance and rejection, the joy and the sorrow.

The second prophet Anna, a widow of some 84 years of age also come and beholding Jesus began to praise Go and to speak about the child. While scripture doesn't say much about Anna, tradition holds her as an aesthetic whose life was devoted to God and whose sole purpose was to testify to Jesus. In Stephen Reynolds’s book “For all the Saints” an excerpt from a homily by Amphilochius, Bishop of Iconium has Anna saying to the people in the Temple various passages from the psalms and prophets attesting to the actions of Jesus and that he was the fulfillment of all the Old Testament promises of salvation.

Together Simeon and Anna testify to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah and point to the road of salvation which leads to the cross and the fulfillment of God’s promises in the most unexpected of ways. While the nation is drawing lines and borders around itself to separate itself from the world, and the while the people lay their hopes on a new kingship and power status, God is extending the circle to include all humanity so that everyone might come to know God, to experience God’s redemptive works and to live in a new paradigm where barriers will be broken down, justice will prevail and peace – God’s peace will dictate human relationships one with another.

May the peace of God direct us in all our actions now and always.