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The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, February 2, 2014

Promises are extraordinary things. Promises of good things to come give us hope and allow us to anticipate some future blessing. They can fill us with excitement and brighten our days. They can free our imaginations to dream and our souls to soar. Some promises are fulfilled in the short-term, and some take longer. Some are mundane and others are filled with meaning.

I was promised just this week that my purple face would clear up soon and the pain will go away. I was glad to hear that news. When have you been given a promise of good things to come? Maybe when you were a child, and your parents promised you that Santa would come if you were good. Maybe you were older, and your parents promised you a car if you were a good driver. Maybe you received a promise from a college you really liked that you could come and study there. Sonograms have promised healthy babies, accountants have promised tax refunds, and invitations have promised good times to share with friends. Promises are a part of all our lives.

Sometimes we receive a promise that has no time specified. We don’t know when it will be fulfilled. My parents told me I could be anything I wanted when I grew up. I dreamed of what that might be. I wanted to be a math teacher, a ballet dancer, a singer and a diplomat. Finally, I ended up wanting to be an editor and much later a priest.

Simeon receives a promise about the most important promise ever given. He is a righteous and devout man, who spends his days loving God and neighbor. He, like many Jews, is looking forward to the consolation of Israel– the messianic age that God has promised, the time of salvation. Simeon is open to God’s movement in his life, and because of that, the Holy Spirit is able to rest on him and bring him a message. The Holy Spirit promises that he will not die until he has seen the Lord’s Messiah. Suddenly what has been out there in the distance becomes a present reality. What has been anticipated in hope for centuries has become something that will take place in his generation. Simeon is overjoyed. He is awed that he is the one who has received the promise. There are many righteous men and women who obey the law and trust God’s guidance in their lives. There are many who hope and pray and dream about what it will be like when the Messiah comes. Why was he singled out? He praises God unceasingly as he goes about his life.

Mary and Joseph are devout Jews as Simeon is. They have circumcised and named Jesus on the eighth day as prescribed by the law, and now they have come to the temple for two reasons – Mary’s purification and Jesus’ presentation. Mary must be purified after childbirth, because the flow of blood during the birth has rendered her unclean. She must bring a lamb and a turtle dove or pigeon for a sacrifice or two birds if she cannot afford a lamb. That they brings two birds indicates that Mary and Joseph are poor peasants. Jesus must be presented to God in the temple as all first-born males must be, because they are designated holy to the Lord. After the presentation, the child could be redeemed for five shekels and stay with his parents rather than be left in the care of the temple priests.

Mary and Joseph are observing the law. They belong to God’s covenant community and want to raise Jesus in that community (R. Alan Culpepper). Their relationship with God is the most important thing in their lives.

When Mary and Joseph are in the temple, the Holy Spirit leads Simeon there. The law and the Holy Spirit combine to fulfill God’s promise to Simeon. When Simeon sees Jesus, he immediately knows that the tiny baby is the Messiah, not just for the Jews but for all nations. Simeon is elated because God’s promise to him has been fulfilled. He could have kept his knowledge to himself, but the Holy Spirit prompts him to speak to Mary and Joseph. This promised savior of Israel will not make the world all sweetness and light. Part of this savior’s role is to judge the hearts of people, to look into their very souls and see whether, at their core, their lives are consistent with their actions. Israel will be turned upside-down when Jesus is a grown man. Some who are thought outcast will be raised, and some who are thought upright will fall off their pedestals. Some will reject him, and some will accept him. There will be hostility to his message, as it is about the coming kingdom of God, a kingdom very unlike earthly kingdoms. Mary, especially, as his mother, will suffer from this hostility toward her son, as all parents suffer when their children are hurt and rejected. God’s promise is a promise of great hope, but of mixed blessing.

While Simeon reveals the unfolding of their son’s ministry to Mary and Joseph, the prophet Anna reveals it to all the people there. She too is open to the Spirit’s movement because of her life of fasting and prayer, and she praised God as she speaks of the redemption of Israel.

The observance of the law and the presence of the Holy Spirit are necessary for the promise to Simeon to be fulfilled. The action takes place in the holy atmosphere of the temple, and yet it is the stuff of daily life. Obeying the law is an everyday thing for Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna. Their fidelity to the covenant makes their whole lives holy. Their openness to the Spirit allows God to move in them to fulfill God’s greatest promise to God’s people. The presence of ritual in their lives kept them connected to God so they could say yes when God chose them to be part of God’s great plan of salvation for the world.

People make promises to us throughout our lives, and so does God. At our presentation – not in the temple, but in baptism – God promises to adopt us as children and give us eternal life. God promises to be with us always, rejoicing with us in the good times and surrounding us with mercy and kindness in the bad times. God even makes the same promise to us that God makes to Simeon – that we will see the Savior of the world, not in the flesh, but in the movements of our lives from day to day. In the promises of hope. In the anticipation of joy. In the strength to face life’s challenges. In the peace that passes all understanding. God speaks to us collectively as God’s people, and God speaks to us individually in our hearts.

To hear what God has to say, our job is to be open to the possibility that God promises and delivers on things that sound too good to be true. How can we be open? We can follow the law, by loving God and our neighbor. We can volunteer and see Christ in the faces of those we help. We can follow Jesus’ example and forgive those who hurt us, then feel Jesus’ love for us and the one we forgive. We can share our faith story with another and sense the Holy Spirit guiding us in the telling.

We can all give examples of loving our neighbor, but how do we go about loving God in our daily lives? The characters in our story used ritual to praise God. We don’t use ritual much anymore, but we can incorporate it into our lives again. We can go to church faithfully. We can give thanks to God for a new day when we get up. Bishop Ted Gulick says his shower ritual is to ask God to help his baptism make a difference that day. We can praise God for the people God brings into our lives to help us. We can say grace. We can read the Bible with intention, to see what God might be saying to us. These rituals, and many others that might be particular to us, are ways we love God and ways God blesses us through Jesus as God has promised.

God always fulfills God’s promises. God fulfilled God’s promise to the world and to Simeon, and God will fulfill God’s promises for us. The Holy Spirit rests on each of us as it did on Simeon and moves us to do God’s will. Receive God’s promises to you with great joy, and know with certainty that they will be fulfilled in God’s time.

AMEN

     - Rev. Ann Barker

 

Works cited:
R. Alan Culpepper, New Interpreter’s Bible: Luke (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1995), p. 75.