"Jesus Presents Himself to Us"
Presentation of Our Lord
St. Luke 2:22-40
February 2, 2003
IN NOMINE JESU
It was 40 days after the birth of Jesus, just as today marks 40 days after our celebration of His birth. The time had come for Him to be dedicated in the temple, as required in the Torah, even as Samuel was dedicated many years before, as noted in our Old Testament reading for today. Of lesser importance to us is the ceremonial purification of Mary, for she was obedient to the Lord, having given birth to the Christ-child. The infant Jesus had already been circumcised, as St. Luke notes in the verse preceding our text, having fulfilled the Old Testament covenant on the eighth day, later ushering in the New Testament covenant at His baptism by John. Here the infant Lord comes to His home, the temple, as shown later in this chapter, to again fulfill the Law, for "every male who opens the womb will be" called holy "to the Lord" (v. 23), but He was already holy, for He is God the Son. But He who knew no sin came down from heaven and was made man, fulfilling the Law for us, even as an infant. His mother, Mary, and His foster father, Joseph, fulfilled the ceremonial law in their coming to the temple to offer up sacrifices to the Lord, that they, especially Mary, may be declared clean. Joseph and Mary offered up two turtle doves or two pigeons as a prescribed alternative to the sacrificial lamb. This lowly sacrifice further validates the fact that Jesus was born of humble origins, for His parents could not afford to buy a lamb for the sacrifice. But the Lamb would later be sacrificed as Jesus, the Lamb of God, would take away the sin of the world.
The sacrifice completed, Mary and Joseph meet a man named Simeon, himself a just and devout man, as was Joseph. Simeon, believed to be an old man, was waiting for the redemption of Israel, and the Holy Spirit told him that he would not die until he had see the redemption in the infant body of Christ, in the Anointed One of God. Simeon had the infant Jesus in his arms and, moved by the Holy Spirit, sang the Nunc Dimittis, Latin words for "now dismiss." We know Simeon's song; we sing it after we have been given the body and blood of the Lord. He said, "Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word: For mine eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of Thy people Israel" (vv. 29-32 KJV). Simeon worshiped God, who revealed His salvation, the Consolation of Israel, to him, the salvation which God Himself prepared before the face of all people, a Light to lighten the Gentiles, for the Christ would later be revealed to them, after His work among the Jews was complete, and glory for God's people Israel, because salvation came from the Jews. There was the Lord's salvation, right there in Simeon's arms. Simeon's eyes saw the Lord's salvation, and now Simeon was ready to die. We do not know if he did die shortly after this; Scripture does not give us details of Simeon's life. And the prophetess Anna, an old widow, remained constantly in the temple, worshiping night and day by fasting and prayer. Having seen what transpired with the infant Jesus and Simeon, she thanked God for having sent His only-begotten Son in the flesh. She then began to tell others the good news about Jesus to those who were awaiting Israel's redemption. We do not know what her exact words were, but if this particular hymn had been around then, she might have sung the great Reformation-era hymn, "Salvation unto Us Has Come," and especially these stanzas: "Salvation unto us has come / by God's free grace and favor; Good works cannot avert our doom, They help and save us never. Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone, Who did for all the world atone; He is our one Redeemer. ...Yet as the Law must be fulfilled / Or we must die despairing, Christ came and hath God's anger stilled, Our human nature sharing. He hath for us the Law obeyed / And thus the Father's vengeance stayed / Which over us impended" (TLH 377:1, 5). The redemption, the salvation, the consolation of Israel had come and was snugly in Simeon's arms. Anna had the song to sing, and she sang it, as Simeon sang his song.
Simeon's song, recorded by the blessed Evangelist St. Luke, is the canticle we sing each time we receive the Lord's Supper. We sing the song of Simeon, for we too have seen the Lord's salvation, which He has prepared for us in His body and blood. Simeon's song was one of thanksgiving for seeing God's salvation in the Christ-child. We sing our thanks for not only seeing but in tasting the salvation won for us by the Christ who was crucified for us on the cross.
The cross was the sword that would pierce Mary's soul, the sword Simeon points out in our text. You see, Jesus would be responsible for the fall and rise of many in Israel. Those who believed the message of the Messiah would be among those who would rise again on the Last Day, to eternal life. Those who rejected Him would fall to an eternal death. Yes, Jesus is a polarizing figure. There is no middle ground when it comes to Jesus. Either we follow Him, or we do not. Either Christmas is a holy day for us, or it is just a holiday. Either February 2 is celebrated as the Presentation of Our Lord, or it is observed secularly as Groundhog Day. Either we believe in Him and go to heaven, or we reject Him and go to hell. Without Christ we do not depart in peace but in despair.
But we are here today because we have been brought to despair over our sins. The Law of God has convicted us. Yes, we too have fallen, fallen to our knees in the confession of our sins. We are the new Israel, a people in desperate need of redemption, salvation, and consolation. The Israelites worshiped God for a while, fell away from Him, faced certain destruction by their enemies on account of their falling away from Him, were delivered by Him, repented of their sin against Him, and were forgiven by Him. Theirs was an ongoing cycle, repeated throughout the Old Testament. We have similar habits. We daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but death and punishment. We do not begin and end each day in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, but we do so in the name of "me, myself, and I." We are not christocentric but egocentric; that is, we focus not on Christ but on ourselves. We seek to build ourselves up, even if it means putting Christ down. We think we are inherently good people. But we all too conveniently forget what we each said to the Lord earlier in the Divine Service: "O almighty God, merciful Father, I, a poor, miserable sinner, confess unto Thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have ever offended Thee and justly deserved Thy temporal and eternal punishment" (TLH, p. 16). We are not really good people. In fact, we are the worst of sinners, you and me alike, as well as those not with us today. Our sinful pride causes us to deny our sin. But our denial of our sin does not by any means negate it. We are still sinners, sinners who by our own efforts can do absolutely nothing to earn God's favor and entry into heaven; we can only drive ourselves further away from Him. And so, on this day, the fortieth day after Christmas, the Presentation of Our Lord, we present ourselves to Him, exposed by His Law, naked and ugly in our own sinfulness. We are driven to our knees and cry to Him: Kyrie eleison! Lord, have mercy upon us. Christ, be an atonement cover for me and cover up my iniquities. As You were presented in the temple and formally dedicated to serve Your Father, present us, covered by Your blood, shed for us, that we may be presentable and acceptable to Him.
Even as we are driven to our knees in repentance, we have also been raised. We have been raised to newness of life by the forgiveness of sins won for us by the death of Jesus upon the cross. He was presented in the temple as an infant; He was presented to mankind upon the altar of the cross: Behold, your King. His crucifixion pierced His mother's soul, His own flesh, and the darkness that covered us. Jesus Christ, the Light of the world, has pierced the darkness of our sin. The Light that has been revealed to the Gentiles has enlightened us. It is for us that He came into the flesh. He was born as we were. He experienced our hardship and felt our pain, having been tempted in every way we are; yet He did not sin. He fulfilled the Law for us, even while He was an infant. The infant Priest was holy borne, conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. Jesus, holy from eternity, was born in the flesh holy for our sake. He took our unholiness upon Himself and died with our sins upon Him, becoming our sin. And upon us who have been walking in darkness, light has dawned by His resurrection, the glory of His people Israel, that is, the glory of us, His people, and we have a share in His glory. Light has dawned on us as the stone was rolled away from the tomb to show that the Lord had risen, just as He said.
We too were once presented in the temple of our God, coming before Him at the font. There we were presented to Him and claimed by Him. There was no song of Simeon, no Nunc Dimittis to sing at that moment, but the one speaking was the Lord through His called and ordained servant of the Word, saying, "I baptize you in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." We, having been presented to the Lord, have been marked with the sign of the cross to mark us as redeemed by Christ, and have had these marks sealed by the living waters of Holy Baptism. There at the font our Triune God presented Himself to us, calling us His dear children, promising us His salvation.
Moved by the Holy Spirit, we, as members of God's kingdom, come to Him in prayer, praying for ourselves as well as for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus and for all people according to their needs. We present our requests to the Lord, just as we present our offerings to Him right before that, giving back to Him a portion of what He has first presented us, back to Him who created us and has given us all that we need to support our bodies and lives. In our Prayers of the Church, we ask of the Lord: Give us eyes to see Your salvation.
And soon we will have a taste of His salvation as our Savior and Redeemer comes to us in His body and blood. We see it as His body and blood, in, with, and under the bread and wine, come to us, and we taste His forgiveness and salvation on our tongues, touching it with our very lips. Having tasted this forgiveness, we prepare to depart from our Lord's house in peace. But our Lord is not through with us. He prepares us for departure from His house by once again placing His thrice-holy Name on us, presenting Himself to us once again, making His face shine upon us and being gracious to us, looking upon us with favor, and granting us His peace.
On this day, the Presentation of Our Lord, we remember Mary and Joseph's bringing Jesus to the temple, dedicating Him to God. We celebrate today His presenting Himself to us, coming to us in Word and Sacrament, for it is in these Means that He presents Himself and His gifts to us. We need not look any further for our forgiveness, for behold, He comes. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
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