The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Today is a special feast day for the Church—The Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. And because the Presentation has a fixed date (that of February 2nd), it rarely occurs on a Sunday, and so the reading – the propers – that are appointed for the day rarely appear in our Sunday lessons. Today is an exception.
And, as a result, our steady progression in Matthew’s account of the life of Jesus is temporarily interrupted.
Instead of continuing today with the appointed Gospel for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, and the beginning of Jesus the man’s ministry with the Sermon on the Mount, we are suddenly taken back to the very beginning – to the babe in swaddling clothes and the itinerant holy family.
We also make a shift from Matthew to Luke as our gospeler today. The chief reason is obvious. Luke is the only gospel writer to record the account of Jesus’ presentation and dedication in the Temple. But it is also appropriate to make the shift to Luke’s narrative, because it is Luke in particular who is careful, throughout his gospel, to tell how Jesus in all his ministry, and his family during his earliest years, were faithful in carrying out the requirements of Hebrew law.
In the verse immediately preceding today’s lesson, Luke is careful to point out that Jesus was circumcised on the appointed eighth day and then named according to the instructions given to Mary by the angel. And now, continuing in obedience and observance of orthodox Jewish piety, Jesus, on the fortieth day, is taken by his parents to the temple to be presented to God and to offer a sacrifice for their own purification as prescribed by law.
The temple scene becomes the main center of interest. For it provides Luke with the perfect opportunity to proclaim Jesus as the long awaited messiah through the witnesses of Simeon and Anna, two old people who had waited their whole lives for this “consolation of Israel” and “the redemption of Jerusalem.”
But as old Simeon held the child and gazed into his eyes, he saw much more than the messianic salvation of a single nation. Instead, he realized that there in his arms was the savior that God had prepared for all the world to see, –“a light for the revelation of the Gentiles and for the glory of the people of Israel.”
That image of Simeon with Jesus becomes etched into the mind, doesn’t it? An old man with a brand new baby in his withered arms, outstretched as high as he can possibly lift them, and singing, ” ‘Lord, you have fulfilled your word. Now let your servant depart in peace.’ This is what I have lived for. This is what I have waited so long to see. Now I can die a happy man.”
This is the picture of revelation. It is the old recognizing and embracing the new. It is the Old Testament prophecies being fulfilled by the New Testament reality of Jesus Christ. It is the old Covenant of God’s promised presence among his people culminating in the New Covenant birth of the world’s Savoir – Jesus, as God in human form.
Old Simeon with the infant Christ. It is the recognition that the spiritual treasures which God had given to Israel were meant as a gift for the whole world. The glory of Israel would not be in keeping that treasure to itself. Its glory would be the presentation of Christ to the world, and the revelation of a light that would enable all the world to see and experience God’s salvation.
That is a lesson and truth that the Church must heed well, if we are to truly represent and serve Christ as his body. For any Christian community that is concerned only with its own – its own prestige, its own benefit, its own members – and has no missionary interest or desire to make the gospel of Christ reach out with redemption and life and love to all persons everywhere is false.
If our presentation of Christ to the world is not one of unconditional love and acceptance and grace, if we do not embrace and reflect the very nature and spirit of the one who commissioned us to carry on his work of reconciliation in the world, then we do a grave injustice to the gospel we have been called to proclaim. We have failed, not only in our service to God, but in our service to those to whom we have been called to minister in God’s name.
At our Baptisms and Confirmations, when we are presented before God and the Church to receive those sacraments, and every time we renew our baptismal covenant with God, we are asked certain questions concerning our willingness to live our lives in the service of God, and as members of the body of Christ. The first question is this:
“Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?”
It is about community, corporate worship, fellowship and faithfulness in preparation for the work God has called us to do.
The next question asks,
“Will you persevere in resisting evil, and whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?”
It is about relationships, and in particular, our relationship with God.
The other three questions are these:
“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
“Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?”
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?”
Every one of those questions has to do with ministry and our relationships with others. Ministry here, in this place, to be sure; but also, and especially, ministry out there, in the world, beyond this place.
You see, our worship, our preparation, the church community, our relationship with God and others are all important. That’s why we come together, here, on the first day of the week: to give praise to God, and to be nurtured and nourished and strengthened by the Word of God, and one another, and the Body and Blood of Christ.
But, ultimately, the real reason we come here – the reason we should come here, to present ourselves to God and to receive those gifts that God imparts to us through the Word and Sacrament – is so that, in the name of God, we can take those gifts out there, into the world, and impart them –share them – in ministry to others.
Every week, as we leave this place, we receive a charge: to go; to go forth in the name of Christ; to go in peace to love and serve the Lord; to go forth into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit. And every week, we respond to that charge with the words, “Thanks be to God.” On this day of the Presentation of our Lord, may our response and thanks to God be not only with our lips, but in our lives as well. And on this day, and for ever more, may we present ourselves as faithful witnesses – ministers – of the love and presence of Christ,
In the world
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.