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First Sunday after Christmas

James T. Batchelor

First Sunday after Christmas
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

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Sun, Dec 27, 2009 

Today's Gospel tells us that Joseph and Mary took Jesus to the temple according to the law.  Our Old Testament reading is the very law that they were to obey.  In addition to the presentation of Jesus, there was also the need to purify Mary according to Leviticus 12: [Leviticus 12:6-8] 6 "'And when the days of [a mother's] purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, 7 and he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. 8 And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.'" So Joseph and Mary were to present Jesus to the Lord and Mary was to undergo the rite of purification.

The rites and rituals of the temple - indeed the temple itself was really there for one reason.  It was there as a constant teaching tool.  It was there to teach about our sin and God's salvation - the salvation that saves us from our sin.  As today's Old Testament lesson tells us: "When in time to come your son asks you, 'What does this mean?' you shall say to him, 'By a strong hand the LORD brought us out of Egypt, from the house of slavery.  For when Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the LORD killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both the firstborn of man and the firstborn of animals. Therefore I sacrifice to the LORD all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.'"

The presentation points to the Passover.  During that first Passover, the first born of the Egyptians died, but God preserved those who painted the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorposts of their homes.  The first Passover did double duty.  It not only freed the Children of Israel from slavery in Egypt, but the blood of the lamb also pointed forward to the blood of the savior who would save all people from their sins.  The blood of the lamb painted on the wood of the door pointed forward to the blood of Christ painted on the wood of the cross.  God commanded His people to present and redeem their first born with the blood of a lamb as a reminder of that Passover and as a promise of the savior to come.  Now, here is Jesus - The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world - making the traditional connection between the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb in Egypt and His own future sacrifice on the cross.  The sacrifice Mary and Joseph made for Mary's son, points forward to the sacrifice that her son will make for them and all mankind on the cross.

The temple was always busy with sacrifices.  There was the morning and evening sacrifice every day.  Given the population, there were probably several dozen first born sons being presented that day.  Mary was probably one of a couple of hundred or so mothers undergoing purification.  It is very likely that there were other groups offering up offerings and sacrifices as well.  The temple sacrifices were more or less continuous during the day light hours.

Who would have time to notice a family of three among so many people?  Yet somebody did notice.  The Holy Spirit led Simeon to Jesus.  Notice that Luke mentions the Holy Spirit three times as he introduces Simeon.  The Holy Spirit was upon him, revealed things to him, and led him.  The Holy Spirit made sure that Simeon was ready and waiting when the infant Lord came into His temple.

The Holy Spirit moved Simeon to take Jesus into his arms.  Simeon's words tell us of the joy he felt as he hugged the infant redeemer to his chest.  His words are so beautiful that we say them after we too encounter the Lord in the Sacrament of the Altar; [Luke 2:29-32 (KJV)] 29 "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: 30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, 31 Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; 32 A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel."

Simeon's powerful words augment the angel's message to Joseph, [Matthew 1:21] " you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins.  We might be tempted to believe that "His people" are only the Jews.  Simeon's words make it clear that this salvation has been prepared before the face of all people.  It is a light for the Gentiles and a glory for Israel.  When the angel said, "His people" he meant all people in all places and in all times.  The salvation that Simeon held in his arms is for you and me as well.

The Holy Spirit was also at work in Anna.  Her lifestyle demonstrated the work of the Holy Spirit.  She was a prophetess.  Worship was the center of her life.  She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.  The Holy Spirit revealed the Lord to her as well.  She responded by sharing the good news with others in the temple.  She began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.

The Holy Spirit still works in us through the word of God.  He works first of all to convict us of our sin.  We no longer offer up the sacrifice to remind us of our sins.  Instead, the Holy Spirit points us to the cross.  There we see the bloody, painful death of the Son of God.  The Holy Spirit reminds us that we should be the ones on that cross.  We are the ones who should suffer for sin.  After all, it is our sin that causes the suffering.

Never the less, we are not the one on the cross.  Jesus is there to take our place.  [Isaiah 53:5] He was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. We are not the ones who suffer on the cross.  We are the ones who receive the gift of eternal life because Jesus died on the cross for us.  Jesus demonstrated this eternal life by rising from the dead Himself.  After the Holy Spirit shows the punishment we earned with our sin, He shows us our salvation.  He shows us Jesus Christ.  He shows us Jesus Christ dead on the cross and then risen from the dead.  He shows us Jesus Christ who died for us, but is now alive forever more.  This is the same Jesus Christ who kept the law when His parents presented Him in the temple.

The Holy Spirit works in us just as it did in Simeon and Anna.  Without the Holy Spirit's gift of faith, we only know Jesus as a baby in a manger who grew up to be a good moral teacher and then die a tragic death.  With faith, we know that the baby in the manger is God in the flesh who came to conquer sin, death, and the devil with His suffering, death and resurrection.  Without faith, we cannot believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  We are alone at death and doomed to an eternity of pain and suffering.  With faith, we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.  We have a savior who remains with us through death and gives us eternal life.  It is only through the Holy Spirit's gift of faith that we receive the gifts of God's salvation.

As we heard today's Gospel, we heard about an event from Jesus' infancy.  As the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to tell us of this event, we learn that Jesus was already teaching us about His work.  Even before He could speak, Jesus was already teaching us [Luke 24:46] that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead.  We see Jesus enter His own temple to keep His own laws - the very laws He gave to Moses.  In so doing, He is not only keeping the law on our behalf, but He is also taking part in an ancient object lesson.  The sacrifices offered on His behalf tell us of the sin He will take away from us.  They also point forward to the very way in which He will take away those sins as He Himself fulfills the promise of those sacrifices by offering Himself up as a sacrifice for us.

God shows us how Christ kept the smallest point of the law - even as an infant.  Through the presentation ceremony, God foreshadowed the sacrifice He will send to the cross by pointing back to the sacrifice of the Passover lamb.  Through the words of Simeon, we learn that this salvation is for all people not just the Jews.  Through Anna's actions we learn how to share this good news with others.  Finally, in all these things, we see the Holy Spirit at work creating and sustaining the faith that makes us one with God.

The gift of faith joins us to Christ.  We shall never be separated from him again.  His triumphant sacrifice and resurrection make us part of His family.  He will always be with us in this life and we shall be with Him the next.  The righteousness of Jesus Christ is ours forever and ever.  Amen

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