The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Luke 2:22 And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “EVERY first-born MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD”), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, “A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES, OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS.” 25 And behold, there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, 28 then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said, 29 “Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; 30 For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, 31 Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Thy people Israel.” 33 And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. 34 And Simeon blessed them, and said to Mary His mother, “Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed–35 and a sword will pierce even your own soul– to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” 36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with a husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. And she never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 And at that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 And when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. 40 And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him. (NASB)
Church tradition has given the events recorded for us in the Gospel lesson on this 1st Sunday in Christmas a name. It’s called “The Presentation,” although this was the second trip to the temple since the birth of Jesus.
The first trip to the temple took place on the eighth day after Jesus’s birth. It’s a ten mile round trip from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. They took the first trip so that Jesus could be circumcised and bleed in accordance with the law. Forty days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple with them along with the required pair of turtledoves in accordance with the laws governing the rite of purification.
Forty days after giving birth a woman was to be purified, made clean. By virtue of the incarnation, original sin was not passed on to the baby Jesus, but there was the spilling of blood and blood made one unclean. Leviticus 12:8 “This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering, and the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”
But the second trip to the temple had a second purpose. The first purpose was for the purification of Mary. The second purpose had to do with the birth of the first born son. “They brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘EVERY first-born MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD).’” (Luke 2:22-24). This is a restatement of what was written in the Law in Exodus 13:2, “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the firstborn of every womb among the sons of Israel.”
On the 40th day after His birth, Jesus was presented to the Lord God by His father and mother; and the Lord God presented His Only-Begotten Son to us confirming for us what the angels and shepherds had said of Him forty days earlier. Our Savior had been born in the City of David.
The last plague that befell Egypt before the Hebrews were set free was the death of the first born son. The only first born sons that were spared by the angel of death were the ones in the homes that were marked with the blood of the lamb.
From that time on, the first born son belonged to the Lord God. A firstborn son could be bought back by bringing an offering of a lamb, or a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons depending on what a family could afford. It was a law wherein parents were essentially buying back their son–redeeming him with their sacrifice. Ultimately, we would be redeemed by Jesus’s sacrifice.
Joseph and Mary went to church that morning with the necessary offering to buy back the Redeemer, while presenting Him to the Lord God as their Redeemer. In doing this Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were fulfilling the law set down in Exodus 13 and Leviticus 12.
There they were met by an old man named Simeon and “prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel.” Simeon was a righteous and devout man who was looking for the consolation of Israel. As a righteous and devout man, he knew that on the appointed days after the Messiah had been born, the Christ Child would be brought to the temple to do what the law required. He knew the Old Testament prophecies. In this case Malachi 3:1. “Behold, I am sending My messenger, and he will clear a way before Me. And the Lord, whom you are seeking, will suddenly come to His temple….”
It had also been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until after he had seen the Christ. Add these two facts together and you have man of faith who makes a habit out of going to the temple on a regular basis knowing eventually that the Christ Child will be brought to him.
The widow prophetess Anna was an 84-year-old woman. She lived at the temple. “She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.” She too was looking for the “redemption of Jerusalem.” No doubt Simeon who made the temple his second home and Anna who lived there knew each other. She might have taken her queue from Simeon. He had the promise and he is the one who identified Jesus as the Messiah when “he took [Jesus] into his arms . . . and said and gave us the Nunc Dittimus, ‘Now Lord, Thou dost let Thy bond-servant depart In peace, according to Thy word; For my eyes have seen Thy salvation, Which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Thy people Israel.’”
By the end of the Gospel lesson, Jesus had attended five Sabbaths, had been carried 20 plus miles in two trips to the temple, for four different but connected purposes. Circumcision, purification, redemption, and presentation. Forty days from birth and Jesus was already living in full compliance with the laws of Moses and was in fellowship with His heavenly Father. That’s a lot of “church stuff” right out of the womb.
Now as you know, Christmas was yesterday and Christmas Eve the night before, preceded by four Sundays and four Wednesday evenings in Advent. And here you are again. I guess you’re all unaware that in the modern era of Christianity, especially in mainline protestant and American Evangelical circles, there’s a rule against going to church too much. In the modern Christian mind Christians don’t really need to attend church more than a few times a year and certainly not more than once a week.
I have never seen the rule, but it must exist someplace given how many people call themselves Christians and how few make it to church on a regular basis, even during the most joyous times of the year (Christmas) and the most somber times (Lent and Holy Week) of the year.
For Jesus these trips and observances were just the start of a life of perfect obedience to the law and to His Father’s will. At eight days Jesus shed His Blood in fulfilment of the law. At forty days He was presented to the Lord God and consecrated into His life of perfect obedience, suffering, and His bloody death as a sacrifice for our sin.
Simeon and Anna were at the temple because that’s where the Word of God was to be found in the reading of the Old Testament, in the liturgy, in the sacrifices, then in human flesh when Mary and Joseph came into the temple and presented Jesus to the Lord.
The Christian life is to be a life of church attendance. Too many Christians think of God wrongly. They think of God in abstract terms. But our God is a God who comes to us in a local place in time. The same Son of God and Son of Mary who was brought into the temple on day eight and day forty, the same Jesus held by Simeon and praised by Anna is found here in His Word, there in the baptismal fount when the water and the Word are joined together, and there on the altar when the words of institution are spoken over bread and wine.
In church Christmas continues, but not Christmas alone apart from the work of Christ. The church is where the once and for all atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His resurrection continue. Simeon and Anna were at the place where God had promised He would be found, at the time He was to be found, and for the purpose He would be found. “When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the Law, to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4). The Son of God and the Son of Mary made us sons and daughters by adoption.
Do you remember those four reasons for which Jesus was brought to the temple on day eight and day forty? Circumcision, redemption, purification, and presentation. The same has been done and given to you through the Word of God and in the work of the church.
Circumcision– Colossians 2:11 “In Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision performed without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ.” Philippians 3:3 “For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and take pride in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh.”
Redemption–Romans 2:23-25 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith.”
Colossians 1:13-14 “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Purification– 1 John 3:3 “And everyone who has this hope set on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.”
Titus 2:13-14 “Our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, eager for good deeds.”
Presentation– Ephesians 5:26-27 “So that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless.” Colossians 1:22 “He has now reconciled you in His body of flesh through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach—”
Mary and Joseph sinners both, present their holy and blameless Son to God so that their Son would circumcise your heart, redeem you, purify you, and present you to His heavenly father holy and blameless in His sight. In Christ you have been circumcised of heart, redeemed, purified, and presented to God for your sins are forgiven you.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.