Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
As has become our pattern in recent years, we celebrate the feasts and festivals of the church year when they fall on Sundays. In spite of the much-appreciated extra work for our beloved Altar Guild in changing the paraments a few more times, it is right and helpful that we observe these days. It gives us broader exposure to more readings from the Bible. It deepens our understanding of the story of salvation. It makes us see new and different ways of how our loving God has worked—and continues to work—on our behalf. In other words: It gives us more Jesus—and more Jesus is always a good thing.
Much of our nation’s focus on February 2 is usually on whether or not a chubby, smelly rodent is going to emerge from hibernation and see his shadow—the emphasis being on creature and creation, rather than on Creator. On February 2 of this particular year, most of our country will also be focused on the worship of pseudo-warriors attempting—or preventing—the movement of an inflated animal skin across a large green carpet. Don’t get me wrong: Sports are a wonderful pastime. Yet in modern culture they have taken on a level of importance and devotion that make them the world’s number one pagan religion.
The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord, however, is also on February 2, forty days after Christmas. In keeping with the instruction of the Law, the Virgin Mary and her husband Joseph had already had the baby Jesus circumcised on the 8th day, January 1.
Now, on the 40th day, Mary also goes through the purification rites following childbirth. This includes making a thank offering in God’s Temple. On the basis of time and distance, it’s only possible that this visit to Jerusalem is taking place before Jesus and His family flee to Egypt to escape Herod’s bloodthirsty rampage against the infant boys of Judea.
Imagine this: Having already shed His blood once for us to fulfill the Law of circumcision, now Jesus is brought right into the very center of the region’s earthly powers: The city where Jewish religious leaders, the puppet king Herod, and the Roman governor of the province all exercise their offices. He’s right under their noses—helpless; easy pickings, it would seem. But they don’t know He’s there. Perhaps the wise men are still en route from the east, or perhaps Herod hasn’t yet figured out he’s been tricked. Regardless, Jesus is safely brought to His Father’s house, for the first of many times.
Luke’s theological emphasis in this story become quite clear: Mary and Joseph are pious keepers of God’s Law. When it comes to child-rearing, they are doing everything according to the Torah’s instruction. Although He wouldn’t yet understand from a human perspective, the Lord Jesus is being taught to keep God’s Law perfectly.
And on His 40th day, God’s Son, our Savior, is brought to the Temple. He is carried in His mother’s arms into His Father’s house, where Joseph and Mary will give the Father thanks and praise for this wondrous gift. Once again, as they were surprised by the words of angels and shepherds, Mary and Joseph will be surprised and startled by the testimony concerning who this child is, and with what great hopes He is entrusted!
Already in chapter 1 of Luke, the angel Gabriel told Mary of the wondrous birth to be. Then John the Baptist leaped in his mother’s womb at the mere sound of the voice of Jesus’ pregnant mother. Earlier in chapter 2, shepherds came to the manger with amazing stories of angel choirs and tidings of great joy concerning this child. Now, in the temple, two elderly saints, Simeon and Anna, are overcome with joy. They offer God their highest praise; they have been given the opportunity to lay eyes and hands upon God’s infant King, the long-awaited Savior of the world.
Luke’s narrative is not the product of a fertile theological and literary imagination. Having thoroughly researched the entire story of Jesus life, Luke’s inspired words flow out of a recording of the oral history he found. He has spoken to many who knew and saw and worked with Jesus. It’s even likely that he may have spoken with the elderly Virgin Mother herself, living at John’s home in Ephesus, as she had been placed in John’s care by Jesus, from the cross..
Looking back on her life and on the joy and pain of being the Mother of God, Mary could tell Luke intimate details that describe the pious home life and the spiritual nurturing that Jesus received from her and Joseph. Clearly, Jesus’ divine nature would have known all there was to know about God already. But we are told that Jesus obeyed and respected them, and so He would have patiently listened and learned what His earthly parents had to say.
All of this should serve as a source of encouragement to parents who would strive to raise their own children as followers of God’s Son. If Jesus still studied and learned the story of the Scriptures, then surely it has all the greater value and benefit to our own children.
What happens at the Temple is also encouraging. As representatives of the very best of Jewish religious tradition, Simeon and Anna rejoice to lay eyes and hands upon the infant King and Savior. Unlike scribes and Pharisees and other religious leaders who will one day take offense at and even reject the Son of God when He comes to claim His people, Simeon and Anna are filled with the Holy Spirit. They testify to the wondrous things that God has already done (and will yet do) through this child. They are the forerunners of the vast numbers of traditional and ethnic Jews who will one day confess that Jesus is the Messiah, the incarnate Son of God, and the Savior of the world, forming the initial core of the Christian Church.
Centuries of Lutherans and other Christians know Simeon’s song, even if they cannot remember his name. That’s because, after receiving the Lord’s true body and blood, they have joined countless times in singing the Nunc Dimittis, drawn from those words of Scripture: “Lord, now lettest Thou thy servant depart in peace.” Simeon is the embodiment of the pious older man. He spends his days praising and thanking God, and longs for the fulfillment of all God’s promises.
Similarly, Anna typifies the pious widow. She, too, spends her days praising and thanking God. Her only hope is in the Lord. As a prophetess, she proclaims the coming Crucifixion of God’s Son, and the stumbling block that He will be for those who reject Him, in the same way that Mary of Bethany, Lazarus’ sister, will proclaim the Resurrection from the dead and the life that Jesus will give to those who embrace Him.
Simeon and Anna are role models for saints today whom God has not yet called from this life. They show what is possible when eyes and ears are tuned not to the heartaches and disappointments of this life, but to the hopes and promises that God offers to all who put their trust in Him. Others may show bitterness or cynicism or the yielding to depression and world-weariness.
Not Simeon and Anna, though, and not those who live rejoicing in Christ. Instead, they point to the infant King and Savior as if to say: “What joy to know that God answers all our prayers and keeps all His promises in Jesus Christ! What joy to see Him, even before He goes to His cross for our salvation! What joy to hold Him, even before He rises from the dead and ascends in glory to intercede for us at the Father’s right hand!”
When mothers and fathers and godparents and grandparents bring little ones to receive the gift of God’s Baptism, they are like Mary and Joseph and Anna and Simeon, testifying to the Christ who has come to save. God has entrusted parents with so much more than just proving that they have been here and left behind a biological legacy, or a flesh-and-blood monument to their existence. No, what God has placed in their hands is a fragile and precious gift, one like them who is created in God’s image, whose very future depends upon their faithfulness, godly example, and sharing of the Gospel.
So many parents get their roles jumbled by the ideas and self-absorbed imaginations of the broken world. It is not that God does not care if a child hones and develops his or her talents, and has a successful life on earth. Indeed, God has given everyone gifts, vocations, and opportunities to work for the well being of others.
But the essential thing to remember is this: If one raises a child to gain the world but to lose his her soul, then it is an eternal tragedy.
Like Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna, parents and godparents and grandparents and other interested mentors hold in their hands and hearts and minds a gift created by the greatest Gift ever given. A parent who refuses to bring a child to Baptism, or who refuses to surrender his or her own life to God’s good and gracious will, is already a millstone around their child’s neck. The parent has failed to get his or her life’s priorities in a godly order.
Likewise, the parent who always finds an excuse to avoid coming to worship, whining the same old impious words about the church’s failings and shortcomings, is also a millstone around his or her child’s neck.
But that parent has also fastened a millstone around his or her own neck. As Jesus later says, “Whoever causes one of these little ones to sin, it would be better if that one had a millstone hung around his neck and be cast into the sea.” (Mark 9).
The Lord’s many warnings about spiritual enslavement by money and possessions can be extended to all the other cultural “must-haves” of this present dark age, too. Self-declared “enlightened” parents are captive to dark forces when they have high hopes and take extraordinary measures for their child’s worldly success, but opt not to bring their children to the services of God’s house, place in their hands the Holy Scriptures, and fail to teach and provide for their instruction in the Christian faith.
Instead of all the technology, toys, activities, and other worldly advantages these children receive, though, the essential thing they need is to know that Jesus is the author of their life. Jesus, by His death on the cross for the whole world, is the One who guarantees that all life is precious, lovable, and valuable to God.
And that is why Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna, as part of the story of our salvation by Christ, become essential portrayals for us. What Jesus did in their lives, He has done in ours. Led by the Holy Spirit, these saints showed pious and godly lives, believers who struggled like we still do in the face of the world’s high-sounding nonsense. Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna demonstrate for parents, godparents, and grandparents everywhere the essential role to which they are called as shapers and molders of the godly life in the children whom God has entrusted to their care.
But how will a child be baptized into the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection if he or she is not brought for Baptism? How will the child be nurtured in the Christian faith and life if he or she has no teachers about their Savior, or examples of righteousness? How will the child come to know the shape of the Christian life as daily dying to sin and rising to new life if his or her parents, godparents, and grandparents do not model such a way of life? How will the child learn to open God’s Word, to pray, and to sing God’s praises if no one in the household is fluent in the ways of God’s Kingdom? How will the child learn to value not only his or her life, but also the lives of others, if no one ever shows in countless ways that life is a wonderful gift from a great and compassionate God?
And so today we have Mary and Joseph and Simeon and Anna as encouragers for us to offer our own sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. For God has graciously sent His only begotten Son into our flesh. He has come to redeem and save us lost and condemned creatures from sin, death, and Satan. Baptized into His death and resurrection, and nourished with His own true body and blood in bread and wine, we can offer our praise and thanksgiving—not only with our lips, but with our entire lives.
We do well on this day of Jesus’ Presentation as an infant in the Temple to remember that every child is a gift from the great Giver. Treasures such as these are to be cherished and guarded and stewarded in such a way that the gifts the Lord has given each child are nurtured until they give God the glory that is due Him alone for both their earthly and eternal heavenly lives.
Now may the Holy Spirit lead us and guide us in this way of life, that all our words and deeds bring glory and honor and worship and praise to our triune God, who has prepared our place at His banquet through Christ our Savior.
In the holy (X) name of Jesus, Amen.