The Presentation
The Rev. Kay Dagg, guest preacher
Luke 2:22-40

…[the Holy Family] returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Luke 2:39b-40

Three weeks ago, we began the church season of Epiphany. With his baptism at the hand of John the Baptist, Jesus was initiated into his public, adult ministry.

Two weeks ago we learned surprising things about call: God called young Samuel as the child slept in the Temple; God issued a child a call to serve.

Centuries later, Jesus called his disciple Philip; an outsider from Nazareth was calling disciples to follow a new way. A faint, fresh whisper was stirring the order in the world.

Last week, Jesus recruited four of his disciples: Simon (Peter) and Andrew, and the Zebedee brothers, James and John. They dropped their old lives and followed willingly. The fresh whisper was becoming a new breeze, beginning to disorder some lives.

This week, in the regular Sunday readings, Jesus drives an unclean spirit from a demoniac, freeing the man from possession – healing…with authority! The disturbing current of Jesus’ new teachings begins to move through the region of Galilee. Jesus will live his adult life as a revolutionary, always walking the road toward his death as a revolutionary.

This morning, I want to pause and sit down together alongside that road, to savor an early piece of Jesus’ story we often miss…the story of the infant Jesus’ presentation at the Temple in Jerusalem.

In the predawn gloom of a midwinter day, chilled to the bone from the biting wind, an elderly man arrives at the courtyard of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Relieved to reach his destination, sheltered at last from the sting of the icy winter wind, he kneels on the stone floor to give thanks to God.

Rising slowly to his feet, Simeon seeks out a charcoal brazier. He stretches arthritic hands forward to catch a bit of warmth. As he begins to relax a little, he ponders his situation. He doesn’t really know why he is here, but this is not the first time the Holy Spirit has directed him, and Simeon trusts this message from God. So he settles in, squatting on the cold stone floor, leaning back against the rock wall to wait.

Simeon trusts God completely. God, the Holy Spirit, has called him to be in this place at this time: for Simeon that is enough. He will wait for revelation of the next step in God’s plan for him.

A gentle tap on his shoulder wakes Simeon from a light sleep. A boy, a Temple attendant, points across the courtyard to a doorway nearby; Simeon turns to see a very old woman gesturing to him from the Women’s Courtyard, visible through the door…no doubt one of the widows who live at the temple, giving their lives over to God.

Simeon rises with difficulty, and moves out through the early morning crowd, to where the old woman waits. “They’re here,” Anna tells him in a low voice. She nods in the direction of the outer courtand quietly moves away.

Simeon looks around the bustling courtyard…who’s here? Whom does this Temple widow expect him to find? and why? So many people crowd the Temple. Women of all ages have come to pray, making an offering, seeking purification following childbirth, requesting intercessory prayer for help with life’s hardships.

Men of all ages have come as well; to make their own offering, to pray or to seek intercession for themselves or their loved ones. In the outer courtyards, some are selling animals for sacrifice; others provide the exchange of coins of the Roman Empire and coins foreigners have brought forward for ancient and unique Temple money. The birds, animals and sometimes money were required for certain rites within the Temple.

Led by the Spirit, Simeon is drawn toward the bird vendors; his attention centers on a family buying two small doves. The wife holds the young baby close, protecting him from the cold; her husband bargains with a vendor for the birds. The couple cannot afford the preferred lamb and dove, so two birds will suffice.

They have come to present their son at the Temple, their firstborn, in accordance with Jewish law. For it is written in the Book of Exodus: “The Lord said to Moses: ‘consecrate to me all the firstborn; whatever is firstborn is mine.” Some children consecrated to God remain in the Temple, serving–as Samuel did–their whole lives. Most are redeemed for 5 shekels and taken home with their parents. Jesus will go home with his parents. But we have learned that Mary and Joseph follow closely the Law of Moses. Jesus will be raised in a religious household.

It is the baby that compels Simeon forward. The old one looks so kind, so venerable, and…almost familiar. Simeon holds out his arms to receive the infant, and Mary hesitates only a fraction of a second before she entrusts Jesus to Simeon. The man and the baby gaze at each other for a long moment, and Simeon breathes out gently: looking into this child’s eyes, he knows.

This is the Expected One, the Messiah, the Light of the World. Simeon is at peace. The Holy Spirit has promised him that he would see this moment before his own death. And now it has come…Simeon can go in peace, knowing that the Messiah is alive on Earth: Jesus is here to proclaim to all the Good News: the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Simeon raises a song of praise to God, words well-known to us from evening devotions, words worth memorizing as they bring peace to the endings through which we all pass. “Lord, you now have set your servant free; to go in peace as you have promised; For these eye of mine have seen the Saviour whom you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations and the glory of your people Israël.”

Closing the day with this prayer, we can feel that we are free to go to our homes in peace to rest, as we, too, have met our Saviour—in our prayer and in our work. In each other, we see the Light of the World. And in two short phrases, Simeon reaffirms for us that in the Kingdom of God all are welcomed, no one is left out. “…the Saviour whom you have prepared for all the world to see: A Light to enlighten the nations (Gentiles like you and me) and the glory of your people Israël (Jesus’ birth heritage–the Jews).

Simeon praises God with his song of light – but then he continues with a revelation of shadow; this holy man warns Mary that her child is destined to face grave opposition and that a sword will pierce Mary’s own soul…her heart will be broken because of Jesus’ work.

Joy and sorrow in one proclamation; light and shadow converge onto the same scene. It is the Christian dichotomy. Jesus is raised up in glory, but only after he is crucified in shame and pain.

We have heard Simeon’s message, flash back, flash forward–there is no way out. Flash back–at his Incarnation, Jesus was born fully divine and fully human. He lights our lives with truth and love. BUT – Flash forward. Anyone who turns on a light creates shadows as well.

On Epiphany, the Wise Men arrive by the light of the Star to worship our newborn King. That same day, Herod, plots in the shadows to kill Jesus, ordering every child under the age of two slaughtered in a vain attempt to rid himself of the Holy One.

In today’s regular lectionary reading, we would have heard that Jesus cures a man, makes him whole and healthy, while the demon which had possessed the man isn’t destroyed but moves snarling and slinking into the shadows, to wait for another time.

What about us? What is Jesus to us?

Our eyes and our hearts have been opened to the Light and we try to follow where he leads. For our eyes have seen the Saviour prepared for all the world–for us–to see; a Light to enlighten the lives of all, the Glory of all God’s people.

Thanks be to God.