February 2, 2014
We celebrate The Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple because it today is February 2nd.
Last week Jesus was a grown man calling disciples and now he is only 40 days old being carried by his parents into the Temple in Jerusalem.
For me, it is easier to preach on stories about the adult Jesus than it is to preach on stories about the baby Jesus, because the adult Jesus says things and does stuff. The Baby Jesus just lays there.
The adult Jesus tells us things we can do, but the Baby Jesus only points to things God is doing.
This is why mainline Christians liked the work of the Jesus Seminar which started back in the 1980s. It was a group of 150 progressive Bible scholars coming together to separate out of the gospels what Jesus really said from the stuff the early church made up about Jesus. They wanted to uncover what they called “the historical Jesus”, to liberate the real man from the pious fiction. Modernity loves this project because it gives the impression that finally we can crack the code and find the real man.
Of course, as many have said, this research ended up giving us a Jesus who looked a lot like the people who were doing the research. They gave us a Jesus who was a great teacher, but not a divine savior.
So, from their rational perspective Christmas and Easter have to go because everyone knows God doesn’t have skin and crucified people don’t resurrect from the dead.
The scene we have today must also go. Simeon and Anna prophesying that Jesus is God’s Messiah world won’t do, because everyone knows God, if there is a God, is locked up in heaven and can’t interfere with life on earth.
This is great news for the ego that is happy to control life on earth—free from accountability for doing things “my way”.
We can be grateful for the work of these scholars, because they kept us talking about Jesus, something most church people had pretty much stopped doing. I have especially liked the work of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan.
What you and I must recognize is that each gospel is written, not by an “objective” reporter of facts, but by people seized by the power of a great affection called the Risen Christ who is the savior of the world.
They want us to know that same love and peace.
So Luke says meditate on this scene: Mary and Joseph taking their newborn to the Temple. Simeon and Anna, full of the Holy Spirit, see there is more to Jesus than meets the eye. They don’t know this because they are smart but because they are open to the voice of God.
Simeon says this child is the Messiah, the King, the Light of the gentiles.
The old prophetess Anna praises God for this boy who will liberate Jerusalem.
The first thing Luke wants us to see is that Jesus is a Jew being raised by Jewish parents who take the Torah with utmost seriousness. Four times in this passage we are told they are following the Law of the Lord.
Mary and Joseph are raising their child inside the womb of Judaism. Many parents today keep their kids away from church now so that they can freely make up their minds later.
They are being so modern in doing this—what they don’t realize is that by not raising their kids inside a religious worldview they are by default raising them inside the secular worldview of American capitalism—which will be on full display during the commercials during the Super Bowl tonight.
There is no neutral place to stand because every place stands for something.
Raising children requires a lot of sacrifice if we would have them grow into something more than a consumer who doesn’t know the difference between pleasure and happiness, between being self-centered and being God-centered.
When Jesus begins to preach the arrival of the kingdom of God he is not making up something new, but fulfilling something ancient. Jesus is finishing the story of Israel by acting out what God promised to the people.
So let’s look at some Biblical history.
When Solomon built the first Temple almost 1000 years before Christ there was a profound sense that God’s presence filled the Temple.
In 1 Kings we read that at the dedication of the Temple: “…the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place…9 There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets of stone that Moses had placed there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, when they came out of the land of Egypt. 10 And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.”
But fast forward 400 years and the Temple has been destroyed by the Babylonians and the Jewish people taken into exile in what is modern day Iraq.
When God frees them from their captivity they rebuild the Temple but it wasn’t as grand.
And the Prophet Ezekiel has a vision of God leaving the Temple:
“Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the [Temple] … and stopped above the cherubim. 19 23 And the glory of the Lord ascended from the middle of the city, and stopped on the mountain east of the city. Ezekiel 10: 18; 11:23
The prophet Malachi, the last book in the Hebrew Testament, in today’s reading says “the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple.”
The absent God will suddenly come back!
Luke is telling us that God returns in disguise as an infant.
At the end of Jesus’ ministry he would return to the Temple one last time, to drive out those who keep it from being a house of prayer for all people.
Finally, at the time of Jesus’ death the curtain that separates the Holy of Holies from the rest of the 35 acres of buildings and open courts is torn in half from top to bottom—because the death of Jesus reveals God is present in the whole earth.
I agree with Anglican Bishop and pre-eminent New Testament scholar N.T. Wright who says the point of the gospels is not to proclaim Jesus is divine as if he were some Greek god in human skin.
Rather, he writes, “….in the events concerning Jesus of Nazareth, the God of Israel has become king of the whole world. How God Became King by N. T. Wright, page 38
He says, “Suppose this isn’t a story about a man going about ‘proving that he’s God,’ but about God coming back in person to rescue his people?” page 93
“The gospels offer us not so much a different kind of human, but a different kind of God: a God who, having made humans in his own image, will most naturally express himself in and as that image-bearing creature; a God who, having made Israel to share and bear the pain and horror of the world, will most naturally express himself in and as that pain-bearing, horror-facing creature.” Page 104
Through Jesus God is doing what the Bible says God is always doing: judging, forgiving, healings, and transforming those God loves into a people who can recognize God, not Caesar, is King.
Luke would also have us believe God is also present with us at All Saints today.
He would have us make the Song of Simeon our own, because it transforms how we see everything.
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles : and to be the glory of thy people Israel.” BCP 1928