The Rewards Of Faith: Feast of the Presentation

The Rewards Of Faith: Feast of the Presentation

Feast of the Presentation: February 2, 2020

Year A, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany: Malachi 3:1-4, Psalm 84, Hebrews 2:14-18, Luke 2:22-40

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Today, we celebrate a simple, humble yet very important event: Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s called the Feast of the Presentation. It’s an easy one to miss liturgically, coming as it does exactly forty days after Christmas Day. It’s one of those feasts that unless it falls on a Sunday, which means Christmas must be on Wednesday, it just doesn’t get celebrated.

This is one of the few stories in the gospels that tell us anything about Jesus’ childhood. The scarcity of information about Jesus’ childhood reminds us that the gospels are not biographies, at least not primarily. Instead, the gospels are narratives that proclaim the Good News to strengthen our faith in Christ.

There’s an acronym that I think started with the military: BLUF, one F. It means, “Bottom Line, Up Front”. Well BLUF for this gospel shows us that Jesus was born and raised in a family that was devoted to the observance of the law. Law was the norm for Jesus’ family life. The law is mentioned five times in this passage, three times in the first paragraph of the gospel.[1]

Interestingly, Luke’s story of the presentation actually combines two different Jewish observances: the purification of the mother and the presentation of the first-born son.  In observation of the law, Mary comes to be restored after giving birth; according to the Book of Numbers, childbirth rendered a woman ritually unclean and thus unable to approach the temple. She and Joseph also come to present Jesus, to offer him to God as their first-born male, which is outlined in the Book of Exodus.

Thus, we see Luke, the most Jewish of the gospel writers, presenting to us two important, ritualistic events, rooted in law.

We also learn something of Jesus’ family situation in this gospel. In order to become purified, Mary needed to offer a sacrifice – a lamb would have been preferred, but a lamb was expensive. The offered sacrifice of two pigeons is also permitted by the law, but it certainly indicates a family who is poor.

In Luke’s account of Christ’s presentation in the temple in Jerusalem, it’s almost as if Luke is presenting his own version of the Epiphany. In the Gospel of Matthew, the Epiphany would be the visit of the Magi. In Luke, we can extend the meaning of the word Epiphany to the presentation in the temple.

Epiphany means to reveal. In this scene from Luke, during the visit to the temple, there is a devout man named Simeon, to whom the Holy Spirit had revealed that he would not die until he saw the Messiah, took the child in his arms, blessed him and said, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen you salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples.”[2] Do you recognize the liturgical use of this language? It’s called The Song of Simeon or the Nunc dimittis. It’s used as a canticle in Christian liturgy, especially at compline and evensong.[3]

There is so much being revealed to us, some very important things. Simeon’s words describe this baby as God’s salvation (“for my eyes have seen your salvation,…”)[4].  Mary’s own suffering is foretold: “a sword will pierce your own soul, too.”[5]

The God we worship has given us this baby. A baby that is to be our Savior. A human baby who was presented in the temple as the law prescribed, but a baby who Simeon tells us will be our savior of all.

There’s something more. If we really look closely at this story, it’s a story of an inclusive gospel. The critical concerns of the ancient world and the modern world are all treated: race, class, gender, and age.

The temple in Jerusalem more than any other place in the world, represented Jewish culture. It was a center for Jewish worship and only Jewish people were allowed to worship there. To preserve the sanctity of the temple, special sections were created for outsiders. Non-Jewish people were restricted to a special section called the Court of the Gentiles.

The temple precincts were further subdivided into the Court of Women, the Court of Israel, and the Court of Priests.

We have two aged, wise people to celebrate the presence of this baby. A woman prophet named Anna. A righteous and devout man named Simeon.

Simeon had been waiting all his life for this sign from God: keeping the Law, following the dietary rules, praying as prescribed in Torah, attending temple services. All these actions he kept up day in and day out hoping to see God’s salvation for Israel. Simeon has now received a sign that he will see the Messiah, the Christ, the one who will bring salvation to the world in need.

Anna personifies the faith and the piety of Israel. Anna gives thanks to God. Thanks, of course, is always the first and appropriate response to anything we’re given, but especially the recognition of Jesus as our Savior.

While Jesus is a baby presented to fulfill requirements of the law, I think this passage really boils down to faith. Jesus offers us a new way. He tells us of a new order. He tells us to love others as we love ourselves. He teaches us to care for the poor and the vulnerable.

We need to keep our eyes and minds on Jesus. We are all called to be God-like (no, we are not called to be God, but God-like), to give up on no one. God loves us all and gives up on none of us. God loves us with a love that will not let us go, a love that loved us before we were created, a love that knows us now, a love that will love us forever. A love that says to each and every one of us, “I love you, you are precious and special to me. You cannot make me love you because I already love you perfectly.

That’s the kind of love that is present at the Feast of Presentation, the kind of love that is present here today. We share today the joy of the baby in the temple. And we join in the Feast of the Eucharist. Partaking in this feast means that were are to live like Christ. The living bread and wine mean that we must demonstrate our love for Christ by how we treat the most vulnerable people: the orphan, the widow, the alien. We are to give justice to the poor, deliver the needy when they cry and help the poor person who has no helper.

The gratitude shown by Anna is the gratitude we are to live in. Amen.

[1] Cf. Luke 2:22; 2:23; 2:24; 2:27; 2:39, New Revised Standard Version

[2] Luke 2:29, NRSV

[3] Cf. Book of Common Prayer, p. 66, p. 120, p. 135.

[4] Luke 2:30, NRSV

[5] Luke 2:35, NRSV

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