Psalm 24, Malachi 3:1-5, Hebrews 2:14-end, Luke 2:22-40
“Thus says the LORD God: See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to the temple.”
Words we have just heard from the book of Malachi, Malachi literally meaning messenger, and being the last book of the Old Testament.
If you have been in church for the last few Sundays you might be wondering what the Lectionary is up to. A fortnight ago Jesus was turning ‘water into wine’, and last Sunday as Melanie told us Jesus was in his local synagogue reading from the prophet Isaiah. His purpose being to set out what was, as Melanie said, his ‘manifesto’ that is his mission in God’s world.
Yet here we are today with Jesus as a baby being taken by Mary and Joseph to the temple in Jerusalem, some five miles from Bethlehem. The reason for this apparent ‘back tracking’ is that this coming Wednesday is the festival of Candlemas, or the Presentation of Christ in the Temple, the light of Christ coming into our world, when now often, the candles to be used for the year ahead are blessed. This day marks the completion of forty days since the birth of Jesus. The requirement in Levitical law, as set out in the Old Testament book of Leviticus, was for Mary to be ‘cleansed’; that being the
completion of her purification following the birth of a male child. Until this day, she could touch no holy thing nor enter the sanctuary of the temple. Here she and Joseph would now offer up a sacrifice, of a lamb or two doves as was required by the law.
This event as recorded by Luke, also fulfilled the obligation of dedicating the first born male child to the Lord, who would then serve God throughout their life. This event very much mirrored Hannah’s dedication of Samuel to the Lord as told in the Book of Samuel. Luke is the only Gospel writer to record these early events in Jesus’ life.
Here in the Temple Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus are firstly met by Simeon, “this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” “The consolation of Israel”, was the comfort the Messiah would bring to his people at his coming. Simeon was given a special insight by the Spirit so that he would be able to recognise the Christ child. So we have his wonderful song of praise, the hymn we know today as the Nuns Dimittis,
“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
Luke in his Gospel makes no reference to the Magi, who in Matthew’s Gospel represent the Gentiles, but Luke as probably a Gentile himself, makes it clear that Jesus has come as the saviour of all peoples and not just ‘the house’ of Israel. Mary is then warned by Simeon that she to, as well as Jesus would suffer deep anguish, the first reference in this Gospel to Christ’s eventual suffering and death.
We then meet Anna, a prophet, who was “of great age, having lived with her husband seven years after marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four”. We are told “ she never left the Temple”. The temple was quite large and included rooms for various uses, and Anna may have been allowed to live in one of them, or perhaps more likely she came and spent her waking hours attending the worshipping in the Temple. Anna, the same name as the Old Testament name Hannah, praised God for the child Jesus, as Hannah had praised God for her child Samuel.
So as Luke relates to us, Jesus was born and grew up as all other children, learning the Hebrew Bible and as a carpenters son, “and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him”.
For as we heard in the letter to the Hebrews;
“Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people”
As we come to the end of this season of Epiphany, ‘Epiphany’ being from the Greek word ‘to reveal’, and now move towards Lent and then Easter, we look for the revelation of Christ to all people. May we all, as equals in the eyes of God, open our eyes, ears and hearts to Christ’s revelation to us all, in Word and Spirit today and everyday.