O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
The Presentation of our Lord
The Presentation of our Lord
Based on Luke 2:22-40
Preached on February 2, 2020
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Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, and from His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Fellow baptized saints, it is forty days after Christmas and we’ve come to February 2nd, the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord. The little High Priest pays a visit to the Temple. But being only forty days old, He can’t quite make it on His own, so He has to be brought there by Mary and Joseph.
What’s happening to Jesus is prescribed by the Law of the Lord – “Every male who first opens the womb shall be holy to the Lord.” Presented at the Temple. If it is an animal you sacrifice it. If it is a baby boy, you offer a lamb in his place. Life for life. Blood for blood. That’s how the Old Testament Temple system works. That’s how God keeps His people holy, and in communion with Him – the lamb’s blood is poured on the altar, the body is barbecued on it, and then you eat. Redeemed. Purified. United to God and His holiness. But what if you can’t afford a lamb? What if you are really poor? Is your son stuck on the outside forever? Can you never present your child to the Lord? No. No, then you take “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” Imagine that. The Redeemer of the world is redeemed by the blood of a couple of pigeons. Go figure.
But there’s more. The presentation also did double duty as purification for the parents. They’d brought a sinner into the world, and so they must be purified. They must be restored to the Lord and the worshipping community. And God made provision for that too - through this very same sacrifice. Parents purified. Son presented. All by blood.
But hold on! Wait a minute. That’s not what’s happening with this boy, is it? No. This baby Jesus is different. They did not bring this One into the world. God did. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit. God is His Father, Mary the virgin His mother. And though He shares our flesh and blood through Mary, He does not share in the Sin of our Father Adam. Then, what’s happening here? What do Mary and Joseph need to be purified from, if their son is the sinless Son of God? What kind of presentation is this?
Here we get to the heart of the matter. What is Jesus doing in the Temple? Answer: He is fulfilling the Law of the Lord. Bringing it to completion, not just for Him and His parents, but for all the world. He’s doing Israel from beginning to end. The One true priest that all the other priests pointed towards has arrived, and He’s only forty days old. Every single lamb sacrificed on that altar was waiting for Him to come and fill it up. He is presented in the Temple, not so He would be brought from the outside in, but so that all of creation might be brought in – in Him. His parents are purified, not for their sin in conceiving and bearing Him, but because of our sin for which He was conceived and born. This baby is redeemed by sacrifice, not in order to atone for Him, but that one day He might offer Himself as the one-time atoning sacrifice for the Sin of the whole world. Two turtle doves for now. But the soft, innocent flesh of this infant hung on the cross in the end. He is the Redeemer of the world, even as He is carried about in His mother’s arms.
This presentation is for you, and me. Jesus is presented in the Temple this day, so that you and I might be presented to God eternally. Do you see the glory of this plan?!? Through the mystery of Holy Baptism, those located in Him, those baptized into Him, those who are hidden in Him are held up in this tiny infant and presented to God. You. Me. Presented on this day to our heavenly Father in His Son. Holy to the Lord. Saints. Ones set apart by Him, worthy of holy communion with Him, in His Son. What do we say to this? How marvelous is this plan?
Everything about this entire episode speaks of “fulfillment.” There are absolutely no accidents or coincidences here. If you follow Luke carefully, you will realize that the last time the Temple came into view was 490 days before, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah the priest in the Temple. 490 days. The precise number of days the prophet Daniel decreed for God to mark His most Holy place, yes, the soft, infant flesh of His Son in Mary’s arms.
Then there are Simeon and Anna waiting in the Temple. They’re like the whole Old Testament reduced into two senior citizens of Israel. One man and one woman. Simeon was told he wouldn’t die until he had seen the fulfillment of Israel with his own eyes. Anna was 84 years old (that’s 12 sevens if you’re keeping score, one for each tribe). She had been married seven years, after which she lived as a widow in the Temple, watching and waiting for God to make good on His promises. It’s as though the whole Old Testament, all the prophets of Israel, all the mothers and widows of Israel, were patiently watching with these two, waiting to see the fulfillment in this Child of God born to Mary and Joseph.
Imagine that moment, when old Simeon took the little One into His arms and lifted those cataract clouded eyes to heaven and said, “Master, dismiss your servant in peace as you have promised.” Or as we sing it when God dismisses us this morning, “O Lord, now let Your servant depart in heavenly peace.” Simeon prays as a slave imploring his master for his promised freedom. He’s finally able to die in peace, trusting in the promises of God. “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” Simeon can proclaim this - now that he holds his own salvation in his arms. This little forty-day-old baby is his redemption, his freedom, the fulfillment of God’s promises, a Light for revelation to the nations, and the glory of Israel. This little child, indistinguishable from any other child, is the One Israel has been waiting for with Simeon and Anna in the Temple.
Did you know you sing Simeon’s song nearly every Sunday? It’s the standard post-communion hymn among Lutherans. Historically, it was sung at the close of the day, before you put your head down on your pillow. It was your “now I lay be down to sleep” prayer in the quiet confidence that “if I die before I wake,” Christ would have me covered by His death and life.
In the 19th century, Lutherans put Simeon’s song into the Divine Service, just after the distribution of the Lord’s Supper. And it’s a wonderful addition. Like Simeon, all our hopes and desires for life are answered in God’s Son, who is presented to us not as a forty day old baby, but in the humility of a meal – bread and wine, His own Body and Blood which He gives to us. We receive Him too, as Simeon did, and all of God’s promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation are fulfilled in us. And, like old Simeon who eagerly embraced his own death, we are prepared to die when we have this Jesus. We go to the Supper as though we are going to our death so that we might approach our death as though we are going to the Supper.
But Simeon doesn’t finish with his song. No. Simeon preaches the cross. It’s the first time the cross is mentioned in Luke’s Gospel. ““Behold, this child is destined for the fall and resurrection of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against, and of you yourself,” he says to Mary, “through your own soul a sword will go, in order that the thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” Jesus’ death and resurrection would mean the fall and rising of many in Israel, and more than that, it would be the death and resurrection of the world. You can’t be neutral toward this Child, even in the hidden humility of His infancy. He will either be your Savior and life, or you will stumble over Him in unbelief and fall. There is no other alternative.
Simeon preaches the cross to Mary as well. A sword would pierce her own soul too, as she watched the sword pierce her Son’s side. Mary would have to endure the unspeakable pain and horror of watching her first-born Son be crucified. Every mother feels that in the depths of her soul. Joseph would be spared this. He is not there at the cross; presumably he had died already. In fact, he disappears from Luke’s narrative at the end of this chapter when Jesus is twelve years old. But Mary would be there as her Son gave His life to redeem the world including her, just as she is in the temple with Joseph to redeem her Son.
The operative word for today, the Presentation of Our Lord, is “redemption.” Here the One who is the redemption of Jerusalem, the redeemer of Israel, the redeemer of the whole world and all of humanity, is Himself redeemed by the poor man’s sacrifice of two little pigeons. Such a small price to pay for such a great gift! How can the blood of a couple of birds compare with the blood of Jesus shed on the cross? This is how our works, our pious efforts, our attempts at holiness compare with the works, the piety, the prayers, the holiness of Jesus. They are, as Luther once quipped, like a flea on the nose of a donkey pulling a cart. They simply don’t compare.
To redeem means literally “to buy back.” It’s what you did to set a slave free. You paid the redemption price. In offering a humble sacrifice for their first born, Mary and Joseph were saying to God, “He’s all yours, but couldn’t we please have him back just for a little while.” In that way, Jesus took His place with every baby boy in Israel. He was redeemed by blood, reminding every Israelite parent of that fateful night in Egypt when the firstborn was redeemed by the blood of the Lamb painted on the doorpost, the night when Death passed over where the blood of the Passover Lamb was.
It’s a reminder that you are redeemed: Purchased and won from Sin, Death, and captivity to the power of the devil. Not with gold or silver. Money can’t redeem a life. It takes blood. The holy precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus Christ in your place, having become your Sin, embracing you in your Death, so that you might be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, as surely as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.
The Redeemer was redeemed in order to redeem you. Blood was shed under the Law to buy Him back for His parents, so that His blood might be shed under the Law to buy you back from captivity to Death. It’s sometimes asked, “Whom did Christ pay? To whom did He offer His blood? Was it the Father? The Devil? Whom?” The answer is the Law. Our slavery to Sin and Death is the Law. We are born in a debtor’s prison. There is an outstanding bill to be paid – the Law that condemns us, the Law that causes our consciences to accuse or make excuses. That debt must be paid. There must be obedience – perfect, sinless, holy, active obedience. There must be a death – perfect, sinless, spotless, unblemished sacrificial death. That’s what this Child in Simeon’s arms is all about. He is the fulfillment of the Law. He actively fulfills it with His perfect life. He passively fulfills it with His perfect death. And He gives them to you as a gift of your Baptism. His life and His death are yours.
As Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple as a tiny baby to be redeemed, as Simeon and Anna held Jesus in their arms and proclaimed His redemption to Israel, so now He holds you before the Father in His arms, and presents you to the Father redeemed by His blood. This is why you join with Simeon. O Lord, now let servant, depart in heavenly peace, according to Your Word. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr