Purification of Mary/Presentation of Our Lord
So I have to say, I am a little jealous of James Peterson. For those of you who haven’t heard, when James returned to Concordia, Nebraska after the Christmas break he proposed to his girlfriend. She accepted and it sounds like they will be getting married at Christmas time next year. James is in his junior year, so he will be getting married during his senior year in college and will head off to the seminary as a married student.
I am a little jealous of James because he really hasn’t had to wait to meet the woman he is going to marry. Now understandably, finding a spouse is a concern of most college age young people. However, if you are a pre-seminary student at a Concordia like James is – and like I was – things are a little different. The vocation of pastor is not exactly typical. And to be honest if you already know that you are going to be a pastor, it brings some unique factors into dating. It’s not every woman who wants to marry a guy who is going to be a pastor. And honestly, not every woman is going to be a good fit for a guy who is to be a pastor. The reality is that if you are pre-seminary student, you have significantly narrowed the range of women who are a serious possibility.
This becomes a big deal as the end of college approaches, because you know that you are about to go to a school where there are no women. The setting of a dormitory for single students on the seminary campus is like the combination of a monastery and a frat house. It is filled with guys who have limited opportunities to meet women. And it is filled with guys are who are quite seriously concerned about meeting a woman because the worst case scenario is go out single to your first call. After all, who is going to want to make out with a pastor?
James isn’t going to have to worry about any of that. He’s not going to find himself waiting to meet the right one as call day and installation in a parish approaches ever closer. He’s not going to find himself waiting and beginning to wonder if he going to meet “the one.”
Today in our Gospel lesson for the Feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of the Our Lord, we learn that Simeon had been waiting. We are told that he was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and that it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. He was waiting, not knowing when and how this would happen. And then one day, Mary and Joseph showed up and presented Jesus to the Lord at the temple.
In our text this morning we hear about how Mary and Joseph are doing two different things at the same time as they come to the temple. The first is the ritual purification of Mary. The Torah directed that forty days after giving birth, a sacrifice needed to be offered in order to cleanse the mother of ritual uncleanness. Several kinds of animals could be used for this depending on how well off you were. We hear in our text about “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons,” and these were the sacrifices that were permissible for those who were poor.
The other thing that is happening is the redemption of the first born son. At the Passover in Egypt, God spared Israel while killing the first born son of the Egyptians. God commanded the Israelites to redeem their own first born son. This was to be a constant reminder to Israel about how God had acted in a dramatic way in order to rescue them from slavery. Later in the book of Numbers, God set the price of this redemption at five shekels that were used in the tabernacle and then temple.
Our Gospel lesson sets before us a picture in which Mary and Joseph are being faithful Israelites. They are carefully following the instructions of the Torah – the Law – just had God had commanded. We learn that everything about this child was being done in accordance with God’s revelation in the Old Testament.
However, in the midst of all this, there is something interesting. Luke doesn’t actually mention the five shekels that were paid. Instead, he says that they came “to present him to the Lord.” The thing is that the Torah never specifically commands this. It is something that is over and above what was normally done. It is something that is unique, and at the same time it follows the pattern of another child born in unusual circumstances who was brought to the place of worship.
In our Old Testament lesson we hear about how Hannah brought Samuel to the tabernacle and presented him for service to the Lord there. As you recall, Hannah had not been able to have any children. She prayed to the Lord for a child, and promised that she would dedicate this one to God’s service. God answered her prayer, and when Samuel was weaned, she presented the boy to live at the tabernacle. She presented the one who would be God’s unique servant – the last of the judges and the first of the prophets.
In our Gospel lesson today, Mary and Joseph present Jesus. Like Samuel, his conception and birth had taken place under unusual circumstances. Like Samuel, he would be God’s unique servant. Like Samuel he would be a prophet. But he would be more than just a prophet. He would be the “prophet like Moses” whom God promised. In Deuteronomy Moses report that Yahweh had said, “I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.” This One presented at the temple is the fulfillment of all of God’s promises to Israel.
The fulfillment of Yahweh’s promises is the thing for which Simeon was waiting. Simeon was cut from same cloth as Mary and Joseph who were faithfully obeying God’s word. We learn in our text, “ Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.”
Simeon was waiting faithfully. However, often, you don’t find that to be so easy. Oh, the waiting part you have to do. It’s the faithfully part where the struggle comes in. You find it difficult to wait while trusting in God for the outcome. You don’t want to wait. You don’t want to wait to see what direction your education or career is going to take. You don’t want to wait to see whether the treatment will be successful. You don’t want to wait, when waiting means simply coping with the limitations imposed by illness or age. Instead, you know how you want things to be and you know when you want them. You want them now. And so you doubt God and his timing. You doubt whether God really is at work. God ceases to be One you fear, love and trust in above all things.
Simeon waited. We don’t know what he was expecting. But through the work of the Spirit he came into the temple when Mary and Joseph arrived to carry out faithfully the directions of the Torah. We hear in our text that he took the baby Jesus up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to your people Israel.”
Simeon held the baby in his arms and said that now he was ready to depart – he was ready to die. He could do this in peace because God had kept his word. He knew that as he looked at this infant, he was looking at God’s salvation. He was looking at God’s light for revealing himself to the Gentiles and for revealing his glory to Israel.
Of course, he was also only looking at a baby. Frankly, there wasn’t much there to see when compared to what his words declared. If this was God’s salvation; a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory for his people Israel, then it sure was hidden.
And that word describes the ministry that Jesus Christ carried out. It was powerful and glorious, but it was a hidden power and glory. Yes, Jesus did miracles that revealed that he was the Christ, the Son of God. And yet multitudes were able to see the miracles and not recognize who Jesus was.
That’s how it was when Jesus won salvation for you. Tortured and humanly speaking, helpless, he hung on a cross for you. He took your sins and by his bitter suffering and death he redeemed you – he freed you from the slavery of sin. He won forgiveness for all of the times you don’t wait faithfully.
And then, on the third day, he gave you something brand new for which you can expectantly wait. On Easter he rose from the dead with a body transformed so that it can never die again. And because you have shared in his death through baptism, you know that you will also share in this resurrection. You will share in it when he returns in glory on the Last Day.
Redeemed and forgiven, you are waiting for this. You are waiting for the coming of the Lord in glory. And while you wait our Lord continues to come to you. You of course know the words at end of the Gospel lesson from the Nunc Dimittis in the Service of the Sacrament. You sing these words after you have received the true body and blood of Christ. And when you do, they are just as true for you as they were for Simeon.
Simeon held a mere baby in his arms. And yet he was able to say, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.” At the Sacrament you have seen and have partaken of mere bread and wine. And yet like Simeon you are able to sing these words too. Simeon could say them because the baby in his arms was more than just a baby. He was the incarnate One – true God and true man – who had entered into the world to fulfill all that God had promised in the Old Testament. You can sing them because the bread and wine is more than just bread and wine. It is the located means by which Christ gives you his true body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins and the strengthening of faith.
And because this is so, you can depart in peace. You can depart as the forgiven child of God. You can depart, strengthened to wait in faith no matter what is going on in your life. You can depart as we look forward to saying one final time, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”