Monday, February 03, 2014

Sermon on Luke 2:22-32, for the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord, "Do you see what I see?"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Today is a minor festival, that doesn’t often fall on Sunday: the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord. Before we zoom in on the details of the story, let’s first zoom out and see the big picture, and the importance of the setting. This took place at the Temple in Jerusalem, which was the center of all the worship life of the Jews. At the Temple God located Himself for His people. At the Temple God placed His Name and His presence, to hear His people’s prayers, to receive their repentance and accept sacrifices for purification and for the forgiveness of sins, and to make His Name great throughout the earth (2 Chron. 6).
The significance of the Temple as where God located His mercy and forgiveness is huge—and especially when we consider that the New Testament teaches that this “located-ness” of God’s mercy moves from the Temple to the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:14; 4). This transfer or movement began with His incarnation—where God took on human flesh and Jesus became the dwelling place of God with man. It continues with Jesus’ first arrival in the Temple, and throughout His continued teaching ministry both at the Temple and from afar. It culminates in His death on the cross where the Temple curtain was torn in two, showing that Jesus our Great High Priest has entered the Holy Places by means of His own blood, to secure our eternal redemption (Heb. 9:13). Finally, when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, God confirmed that His presence was no longer located there, but that in Jesus Christ true believers worship Him in Spirit and Truth. No longer in the Temple, but now in Jesus Christ we find God’s name, His presence, His mercy, and His forgiveness for His people.
So if on the grand scale of things, these movements were underway, and God was recentralizing worship from the Temple to the person of His own Son Jesus as the New Temple of God with man (John 2:19-22), then what was happening on the micro scale of ordinary time? If we can see these events with 20/20 hindsight and the benefit of the whole witness of Scripture, what did Simeon, Mary, and Joseph see? Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised, but they saw a lot. Simeon invites us to behold Jesus, the Christ child, and asks us, “Do you see what I see?”
We’re all familiar with “seeing, but not seeing.” It happens when my wife sends me to the cupboard looking for something, and I see the shelf and everything on it, but don’t see what I’m looking for. It happens when a lay person peers over the shoulder of a computer programmer and sees a screen full of programming code, but in reality sees nothing. It happens when a child who hasn’t learned to read picks up a book with no pictures, and sees lots of text, but understands nothing. Physical sight is one thing—to see an ordinary event that happens every day—a mother and child being brought to the Temple for purification and dedication—but to perceive, to understand, to have insight into what is happening, is another. A blank stare is not sight nor understanding. But to truly see is to find what you are looking for, to understand and make sense of the code, to read the text and understand. To perceive, have insight, is to see with Simeon, that this child Jesus is no ordinary child, but that He is “the Lord’s Anointed.”
Computer programmers and adults who can read, have a leg up on lay people and children because they’ve been instructed—they’ve been taught so they understand. Simeon had the best of teachers, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Filled with the Holy Spirit, God had promised him that before he died he would see “The Lord’s Christ.” It may help to explain that the word “Christ” or “Messiah” is not Jesus’ personal name, but a title that means “Anointed One.” Anointing marked a person for the high offices of Prophet, Priest, or King. They had been chosen for a position of honor, and entrusted with great responsibility. So Simeon was promised that before he died, he would see “the Lord’s Anointed One”—the One God had chosen and anointed for the great responsibility of redeeming His people, giving light to the Gentiles, and glory to Israel.
And today Simeon saw it with all the insight and understanding give by the Holy Spirit. And with the infant Jesus in his arms, and what must have been an intense joy and satisfaction in his heart, he lifted his voice and blessed God with what we now remember as the “Song of Simeon” or Nunc Dimittis. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” Do we hear Simeon’s joyful song? Do we hear him inviting us to see the Christ child, and saying, “Do you see what I see?” There’s no reason for blank stares at Simeon’s joy and peace—it was plainly because he had at last seen the Lord Jesus Christ.
Who can face their own death with such peace and joy? Who can say my cup is filled to overflowing with the goodness of the Lord, and I can walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and fear no evil? Who can live so unafraid and so satisfied? The Christian can! The one who has seen the Lord Jesus Christ, and His salvation, with the eyes of faith and the understanding and insight given to him or her by the Holy Spirit. You Christian, can know the peace and joy and satisfaction of the Lord. There was nothing artificial, forced, or self-made about Simeon’s joy—it was the joy produced in him by witnessing God’s promises come true before his own eyes. Spontaneous and free joy, and a peace that declared his life complete.
Peace is all too often a fleeting possession in this world. There are all too many things that disturb our peace, from problems international and foreign, right down to the domestic affairs of individual households, where peace may be in short supply. And while some forms of peace will never be fully realized or permanently experienced until Christ comes again, Jesus comes bringing a peace of a present and lasting sort—the peace of sins forgiven before God. The peace of salvation, sung first by angels at His birth: “peace on earth, goodwill toward men” and then announced by Jesus after He rose from the grave. The peace of salvation is the peace of sins forgiven, of death defeated, of the Lord’s Anointed granting us a calm and confident conscience, cleared of sin and guilt by His cross. The peace that Simeon received and sang of, and the peace that only God can give and the world cannot take away.
Simeon’s song is one of four such songs found in Luke 1-2, that quickly found their way into the enduring song of the church, as with saints and angels we praise Jesus Christ, and God’s salvation. For centuries Simeon’s song was sung in the service of Compline, as a song of praise for the closing of the day. But uniquely, Lutherans also adopted this song as a closing hymn of communion, to acknowledge that here we have seen with the eyes of faith and spiritual insight, the salvation of the Lord. Here in Jesus’ body and blood, we have seen and received His salvation, according to His Word. How can we say this? How can we compare Simeon’s amazing experience of holding the baby Jesus in his arms with receiving the Lord’s Supper?
We already said how God located Himself in His merciful presence, before at the Temple, but now in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus is no longer to be found in the manger, or the arms of Mary or Simeon, or even on His cross or in His empty tomb. Jesus was at or in all of these places, and in doing so He fully accomplished our salvation. But you can’t go to any of those places to find Him, or to access the merciful presence of God. Those are the places He’s been, but where is He now? Far away in heaven out of reach? So where do you go to find Him? Better than this, Jesus comes to you! He comes to you just as He promised, according to His Word. Jesus promised that He is with His church always, even to the end of the age. And in the meal that He prepares for us to remember Him, He says, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me. This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24-25). Here at the table of the Lord, Jesus has located Himself for us in His body and blood, for the forgiveness of our sins. It’s not our physical eyes, but the eyes of faith, opened by the Holy Spirit, that see Jesus in the breaking of the bread. Jesus comes to us, just as He first came to the Temple, to Simeon and all the saints, and came to die on the cross and rise again to life. Jesus comes to us in His Word and in His Sacraments, revealing His light and salvation as new today as 2,000 years ago.
So Simeon’s song is perfectly and appropriately placed after we receive the Lord’s Supper, so that we too can sing praise to the Lord and say that we can “depart in peace according to your Word”. Heaven has come down to earth, and even greater than holding the infant Jesus in our arms, we cradle the body and blood of our Lord Jesus in our hands and in our mouth. And whether we depart as from our last communion, and may die this week, or whether we depart for another week lived in the grace of our Lord, we can go in peace. For to live is Christ, and to die is gain (Phil. 1:22). We can leave the sanctuary confident that God has kept His promises according to His Word, that Jesus forgives us our sins, and need not even fear death.
This Christian joy, peace, and confidence is ours wholly as the outcome of Jesus’ faithful life and obedience for us. And instructed by the Holy Spirit and God’s Word and promises, we have genuine spiritual insight, we see and know Who we are looking for when we come to worship, and that is always Jesus. And instead of us having to find Him, He comes to us. Week by week and day by day His Word enters our hearts and fills us with the peace that surpasses all understanding. Knowing that this peace is yours in Christ Jesus, go and live in that peace! Amen.

Sermon Talking Points
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1.      What did the Law of Moses require for purification of a child and mother after birth? Leviticus 12. What provision was made for those who could not afford a lamb? What did the Law of the Lord require for the presentation of a firstborn son? Exodus 13:2; 34:19-20; Numbers 18:15-16. How would Jesus be dedicated to the Lord?
2.      How does Luke 2:25-32 emphasize that Simeon was led by  and speaking from the Spirit? What was the hope he was waiting for, and what unique promise had been given to him? Isaiah 40:1-2; 57:14-21. Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7
4.      The word “see” is used in the first place to refer to physical sight, but also can indicate understanding or insight that does not relate to the “eyes.” How does this theme run through Luke’s Gospel? Beyond physical sight, how can eyes be “opened or closed” to the Gospel? Luke 4:20, 28-29; 6:39-42; 10:23-24; 19:42; 24:16, 31(!)
5.      What did Simeon see that others did not? What did he prophecy about Jesus’ future? Luke 2:29-35. The “Christ” is the Greek title for “the Anointed One” (Messiah in Hebrew). The “Lord’s Christ” simply means that it is the Lord’s own Anointed, the man of His choosing, which carries a tremendous significance, tying to all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah. Jesus is “the Lord’s Christ.”
6.      Why could Simeon now face his death in peace? What consolation had he received in the events of that day? This Song of Simeon or Nunc Dimittis (“Now you let depart”) has long been used in the church as a closing song after communion. What has the believer seen in worship and received that they can depart in peace? Why is this a fitting place for this Biblical song to be used in worship?

7.      What additional significance is there to Jesus coming to the Temple, not only on this occasion, but throughout His life? John 2:19-22; 4:21-26; Colossians 2:9; See also Haggai 2:6-9; Malachi 3:1. How would worship be “recentralized” from to Temple to Jesus? Why is true worship of God centered in Him? See John 4:21-26.

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