Sunday 29 January 2017 – The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple
Arrival at the temple/Faithful Israel/Righteous living.
Be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God in righteousness and true holiness (Eph 4:23-24).
your Son Jesus Christ was presented as a child in the temple
to be the hope of the people;
grant us pure hearts and minds
that we might be transformed into his likeness,
through Jesus Christ of Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Ps 24:(1-6), 7-10
Malachi describes the coming messenger as one who will “come to his temple” (v. 1). He looks to the purification and refinement of the priesthood (vv. 3-4) and to judgement based on practical covenantal ethics (v. 5). The Gospel reading will take up the theme of arrival at the temple and then of division. Luke also emphasizes righteous living. He shows Simeon and Anna as righteous (purified) persons within the temple. His Gospel will go on to show Jesus as the one who lives and teaches righteous living and dealings in all he does and says.
Ps 24:(1-6), 7-10
This psalm anticipates several themes that are pertinent to the Gospel reading. Verses 3-6 describe the righteous. The Gospel reading shows Jesus being welcomed by Simeon and Anna, who represent the righteous in Israel. Verses 7-10 of the psalm laud the coming of the King of glory into the city/temple. The Gospel reading sees Jesus welcomed into the Jerusalem temple.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews has an exulted view of Jesus and of the efficacy of his life, death, and resurrection. Through Jesus’ death the devil is defeated, and those whose lives were subject to slavery and who lived in the fear of death are made free (vv.14-15). This lofty view of Jesus is balanced with a firm emphasis on his humanity. Jesus shares our flesh and blood (v. 14), and he is like us in “every respect” (v. 17). Similarly in the Gospel reading Jesus is “the Lord’s Messiah” (Luke 2:26). He is also the baby child who is held in Simeon’s arms (Luke 2:28).
Luke chapters 1 and 2 form a bridge between God’s past dealings with Israel and the surprising new turn the plan of God takes as it unfolds in Luke and then Acts. Jesus is centre stage, but he is surrounded by Old Testament-style characters such as John, Mary, Elizabeth, and Zecharia. These people and their stories show them to be faithful Israel. They are open to God, and they wait in expectant hope for God to come to their aid. Images and themes from the Old Testament swirl around them: angels, the temple, priestly service, visions, unexpected conception, child bearing in old age, inspired songs of praise, angels, the city of David, and more. There are strong echoes of familiar stories and characters in these chapters for Luke's readers.
In today’s reading the infant Jesus is brought to the temple. Mary and Joseph present him “to the Lord” in accordance with the law of Moses (Ex 13:2). The offering they make (“a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons”) is the offering given by the poor for purification (Lev 12:6). Luke makes it clear that Jesus comes from humble stock. His upbringing is true to the ancient traditions of his people.
Simeon and Anna are models of faithfulness in prayer, hope, and witness to what God is doing in Jesus. Simeon is “righteous and devout” (v.25). He looks forward to the “consolation” of Israel (v.25). The holy Spirit rests on him (v.25), reveals things to him about the Messiah (v. 26), and guides him (v. 27). The Song of Simeon echoes Isaiah 42:6 and 49:6, so that Jesus is shown as the Servant of the Lord. It expresses Simeon’s gratitude for the fulfilment of God's word—the promise that Simeon would see the Lord’s Messiah before his death (v. 26). It identifies the infant Jesus as God's salvation, prepared before “all peoples” (vv. 30-31). It comprehends Jesus as “a light of revelation to the Gentiles” and “the glory of . . . Israel” (v. 32). Simeon holds a child in his arms but he perceives by the Spirit that Jesus is God’s Messiah through whom has come salvation, light, and glory. Simeon, like the prophet Isaiah before him, grasps the universal scope of what God is doing through his servant. Like the angels in 2:10-14, he is filled with joy.
Simeon also speaks of the future (vv. 34-35). Jesus will cause division within Israel, and some will oppose him. People will reveal themselves by how they respond to Jesus. His warning to Mary, that “a sword will pierce your own heart,” is ominous. This note of sorrow and conflict stands in sharp contrast to the hopeful and joyful greeting and words of Simeon’s initial greeting. These two strands will be developed and woven throughout Luke’s Gospel.
Anna is named as a prophet. Her situation and her age are described to show her as honorable, dignified, and righteous. She fasts and prays “night and day” in the temple. She recognizes Jesus as the one who will bring the “redemption of Jerusalem.” Anna speaks about Jesus to all who hope for these things, making her an early (and a model) witnesses to Jesus.
Verses 39-40 round out the story. Mary and Joseph's faithfulness to the requirements of the law is reiterated and the families return to their home is stated. Luke then steps in as narrator with “the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.” A similar statement follows the account of the boy Jesus in the temple (2:52). Through these summary statements Luke emphasizes Jesus growth, particularly in wisdom, and the divine (and human) favour that is upon him.
Luke clearly presents Simeon and Anna as models. They stand within the ancient traditions, but they look forward to the new in hope and with joy. They are are open to what God is doing. They are certainly models that we can look to. Luke balances their individual responses with the hope of the people they represent in their prayer, waiting, and service. Preachers could explore this dynamic and usefully apply it to us as individual Christians and as a Church: how do we live faithful to our story and our traditions? Where might God be doing new things among us, and how might we welcome them? What is it that make Simeon and Anna righteous? What can we learn from that?
Whatever approach or angle we take in unpacking this passage it is Jesus who is the centerpiece. He is the consolation of Israel, the Lord's Messiah, the child, God's salvation, the one prepared, the light for revelation to the Gentiles, the glory of Israel, the one destined for the falling and rising of many, the sign that will be opposed, and the redemption of Jerusalem.