The Presentation of Christ in the Temple
Malachi 3:1-4 Heb 2:14-18 Luke 2:22-40
In Christian tradition, children are brought to church to be baptised with water. The child is often dressed in white as a symbol of purity of the child. In our gospel reading today, Jesus parents’ Mary and Joseph go to the temple to fulfil the law according to purification rituals. Mary is required to be deemed clean after childbirth. The child Jesus, being the firstborn is to be offered to God, also according to the law. They bring with them two birds, either turtledoves or pigeons. The law of Moses cites the offering of a Lamb, but if the parents are poor, they may offer two turtledoves or two young pigeons. From Luke’s account, it is taken that Mary and Joseph are not rich but they are honour the law and bring Jesus with them at the appointed time. And as they come they are met by Simeon and Anna.
The message from Simeon is quite striking and Luke says that both Joseph and Mary were amazed at what was spoken to them regarding Jesus. Simeon takes Jesus in his arms and declares, ‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory to your people Israel’.
The words of the Nunc Dimittis or Song of Simeon in modern language comes directly from Luke 2:29 to 32 and can be found in A Prayer Book for Australia, page 11, which are said at Evening Prayer.
1 Now, Lord, you let your servant go in peace:
your word has been fulfilled.
2 My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people;
3 A light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.
Simeon came to the temple, prompted by the Holy Spirit, because he believed he would see God’s salvation before he died. As he comes he sees Jesus with his mother Mary and father Joseph. There are three main things to know about Simeon, firstly he was a righteous man. This meant that he lived according to the Law. Secondly he was devout which meant Simeon had dedicated himself to God and attended Synagogue and Temple as one who is devout would do, following God as he felt lead. Synagogue in the Greek means, assembly or in Hebrew, ‘congregation’. It is never used to mean the Temple. Community life centred on participation in Synagogue life. The Synagogue was ‘school, meeting place, courtroom and place of prayer.’ It is the place that students gathered for reading and the discussion of scripture. In the Gospels, there are ten accounts of Jesus going to a local Synagogue and they include this passage in Luke regarding Joseph and Mary taking Jesus with them, for the purification ritual.
Thirdly, Simeon was someone who listened to the Holy Spirit, being directed by the Spirit to go the Temple in Jerusalem. It is here that he makes his remarks concerning Jesus and the fulfillment that ‘he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah’. Luke 2:26.
But what Simeon says later is all the more striking. He says to Mary, ‘this child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to. Be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed – and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’ I wonder what Mary thought as she listened to Simeon’s words. What would it mean that a sword would pierce her heart. The metaphor is understandable to us this day. Mary would undergo great suffering herself but for now, she was left to ponder the words of Simeon and indeed Anna.
Anna is described as the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, she is 85 and a widow. She prayed at the temple, worshipping, praying day and night with fasting. We have a lot of biographical information about Anna, but we do not know what she said to Joseph and Mary. She praised God for Jesus. The sheer fact that we have all this information about Anna tells us she was most likely well known at the Temple, a prophetess. Anna, like Simeon, was waiting for news of the coming Messiah, believing, like Simeon.
But how does this story of Joseph and Mary going to the Temple relate to us today? What matters is the stuff of life. Simeon believed he would live to see the Messiah. He and Anna spent their life in worship of God, visiting Synagogue and Temple throughout their lives, faithfully serving God and the community in which they lived.
Their lives were devoted to God, they lived for God, wanted to be where they could worship God daily. Of course, our modern lives demand much of us. But our Gospel is also a challenge to us, how much of our daily lives are spent worshipping, praying, thanking God for the life that he freely gives us? For Anna, who became a widow at a young age, could have remarried but chose instead to follow God with fasting and prayer. Simeon likewise. What could be more important in our lives, than giving our thanks and praise for our Saviour Jesus Christ, who lived and dies as one of us, yet took upon himself the sins of the world. There is nothing more important than giving our lives to God daily in prayer and thanksgiving. As we pray today, ‘Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’, May we offer our lives anew to God, giving thanks for the life he so abundantly gives us. For the places we can gather together, Mary and Joseph at the Temple and we here at St Aidan’s to give thanks to God and to worship the one who truly loves us and gave his life for us.