A sermon on the Feast of the Presentation

 Malachi 3:1-4, Hebrews 2:14-18, Luke 2:22-40, Psalm 84

Focus: Life with God in the ordinary

 This morning is as new for me as it is for you. The feast of the Presentation is always February 2nd. The last time that was on a Sunday was … well I couldn’t find it; however, in a conversation Wednesday I was told the next time it occurs is 2025. That’s a long way of saying I’ve never preached this Gospel story before. We are all in for an adventure.

 I didn’t get six words into it before I was off into Bible dictionaries and Strong’s Concordance (which tells you what the Hebrew and Greek words are). I am aware of purification rituals, even that after childbirth women were ceremonially unclean, for thirty some odd days, and after that they underwent a purification ritual that allowed them to go fully back into society, allowed them to go in to the Temple. I was curious why it is ‘their’ purification, not ‘her’ purification.  It surprised me to learned the Greek participle αὐτός (autos) [i] is his, hers and theirs. In any case, Joseph and Mary follow the Law, as given by Moses and recorded in Leviticus; [ii] the gleaning is that they are righteous; they live in sound relationship with God.

 Their sacrifice of two pigeons caught my attention, and sure enough the prescribed sacrifice is a lamb and a dove; unless the couple cannot afford it then two pigeons are offered.  [iii] So we know that Jesus’ parents are of very modest means.

 We all know Jesus is the first born male. We might even connect that to that night in Egypt when all the first born males in the land die; except in houses with blood on the door post. As a reminder of their rescue, the Hebrews are required to dedicate every first born male to God; from cattle, flocks, herds to children. They can be redeemed for 5 shekels or about $15.23; [iv] however, there is no mention of Mary and Joseph redeeming Jesus. That may be because Luke didn’t know about it, his education is Greek, or it might remind us of Samuel whose parents, Hannah and Elkanah, in thanksgiving for having a son, dedicate their only son to God, and leave him with Eli at Shiloh, to serve God. As you know, Samuel grows to be a dynamic divine actor in Israel becoming a Kingdom, from nomadic people. Again this presents Mary and Joseph as being righteous, for by not redeeming Jesus for themselves means he is dedicated to God all his life, which is implicit in Gabriel’s telling Mary about Jesus barely a chapter, and maybe a year ago.

 Did you ever think so much could be woven into a single sentence? But it is all here: Mary’s and Joseph’s righteousness, revealed in the ritual of purification, their modest means, revealed in the sacrifice of pigeons,  and Jesus’ dedication to God, revealed in their not redeeming their first born son.

 Simeon and Anna are parallel characters. Both are very old, Simeon old enough to be near death, Anna is either 84, very old for the day, or has been a widow for 84 years, making her ancient even in this day and time. Both are righteous and devout, both spend all their time in the Temple, looking for praying for the consolation of Israel the redemption of Jerusalem. Both recognize Jesus as the long awaited Messiah. Simeon praises God, for he has seen salvation, the light for all people, the glory for Israel. Anna praises God, and starts telling everyone who is looking for the redeemer about Jesus.

Fred Craddock writes:

… both are miniatures of Israel … at [her] best: devout, obedient, constant in prayer, led by the Holy Spirit, at home in the temple, longing and hoping for the fulfillment of God’s promises.

They help us to recognize

that while God is doing a new thing, it really isn’t [new] … [because] hope is always joined to memory, and the new is God’s keeping an old promise. [v]

It is that new juxtaposed against the old, even the ancient, it’s Mary, Joseph and Jesus juxtaposed against the old Simeon and Anna, juxtaposed against the ancient Hannah, Elkanah and Samuel, juxtaposed against the more ancient deliverance in Egypt that reveals a trans-formative value of ritual observances, which are all but gone today. [vi] And just as purity rituals are not about minutia of action and words, but rather are demonstrative of a life given over to living all aspects life from relationship with God, and is inclusive of self, family, community, Gentile nations, flocks and herds, the environment, indeed all creation; ritual observances are all about grounding the new of our life in the beyond ancient hope of God’s redeeming promise. We will never know how Mary and Joseph’s righteous life affected Jesus. We do know, Jesus was himself righteous, and knowledgeable of life lived as a dedication to God.

When we limit God’s/Jesus’ presence to specific walls at specific times, everything else is diminished. The Psalmist sings:

How dear to me is your dwelling, O LORD of hosts!  
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the LORD ….

But that dwelling place is not the Temple; the Temple did not even exist if David wrote this psalm. The courts of the Lord are, as our Lord’s Prayer teaches us, on earth. I don’t think the story of The Presentation teaches us much about Jesus. I think it shows us what comes of living life in sound relationship with God, of living a modest life, of dedicating what we hold most precious of our belongings of our family, to God’s service, maybe in a specified calling but mostly in the ordinary routine of day to day life.

I have challenged us to take on the specific tasks of
–         welcoming folks home,
–         inviting family, friends and strangers to Friday Families,
–         reviving our commitment to shut-ins, including regular visits with communion,
–         kick starting Brewing Faith, and
–         discerning a new vision that may be from these walls, and may be from elsewhere.

And while, at least for us, all of it is new stuff, it’s really old; really – really old, its life is revealed in keeping ancient ritual disciplines, of prayer, study and service, its hope is grounded in God’s keeping an old promise; which we know is breaking through for: with our own eyes we’ve seen … salvation; it’s in the open for everyone to see: a God-revealing light to those who don’t yet see, and glory for your righteous people. [vii] When our work is done, may those who walked amongst us continue to grow and become strong, be filled with wisdom; and may the favor of God be upon them and us.

 


[i] Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary.

[ii] Leviticus 12

[iii] Fred B. Craddock, Interpretation A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING, James Luther Mays, Editor,  Patrick D. Miller, Jr., Old Testament Editor,  Paul J. Achtemeier, New Testament Editor,

[iv] The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, http://www.dollartimes.com/calculators/inflation.htm

[v] Craddock,

[vi] R. ALAN CULPEPPER New Interpreters’ Bible, THE GOSPEL OF LUKE INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS

[vii] modified from The Message, Luke 22:30

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