Sermon: The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple

Malachi 3:1-4

Hebrews 2:14-18

Luke 2:22-40

Psalm 84

or Psalm 24:7-10

Preface of the Epiphany

The Collect

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

—–

It seems like I’m always talking about calendars. Today is no exception. There are so many layers to today.

Astronomically, February 2 is the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. Many traditions have a holiday near today to mark this seasonal transition. We have made it 6 weeks past midwinter, and so the days are noticeably longer. It’s almost 6pm before it’s completely dark. Tomorrow the sun will rise before 7a for the first time. Spring is not here yet, but I can believe it’s on the way.

After the fall harvest and when the ground was too frozen to work, tasks moved into workshops rather than fields. One of the traditional tasks of winter was to prepare candles for use throughout the year. Those candles might have been presented to the church as a tithe, just as sheep’s wool or grain would have been presented at other times of the year. That is one reason why we are blessing candles today.

Today is 40 days after Christmas. 40 days after Jesus was born. He’s still a newborn, but his parents are growing more confident in taking him out in the world. 40 days after giving birth to a son is when a mother was blessed and gave thanks for safely making it through childbirth. This was called “purification” or in older prayerbooks “churching of women.” It was less about a mother being somehow impure and more about giving thanks and giving time for recovery from birth. A sort of maternity leave, maybe. Our prayerbook now calls this “Thanksgiving for the birth of a child.” Today we give thanks that Mary was safely delivered of her child and joyously welcome her back into community life after recovering from childbirth.

Today is the day that Jesus was presented in the temple. According to the law of Moses, presenting the firstborn male as an offering to God was done for all livestock animals. This was to remember and give thanks to God for delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt. The final plague in Egypt was the death of the firstborn, but the Israelites were saved at that first Passover with the sacrifice of a lamb. A firstborn son is dedicated to God and redeemed at the temple 40 days after birth with an offering. The offering should be 5 shekels, a lamb, and a dove, but if the family is poor, they bring 2 doves. Jesus’ parents brought 2 doves as their offering for the purification of Mary and for the redemption of their firstborn son.

Mary and Joseph were probably not the only people presenting firstborns in the temple that day. I bet they were excited. Their baby’s first trip to the temple! Probably their first big outing with the baby! Time to show him off to the world. They were doing a special thing that only happens once in mother’s lifetime, but I wonder if they felt small and insignificant, bringing 2 doves rather than the lamb and doves and money offering that others could afford? Here they were, with this not-quite-newborn-anymore baby, a child whose birth was announced by angels and prophetic dreams, and they were redeeming him with 2 doves. It seems inadequate.

But it wasn’t really about the sacrifice of the doves. The practice of redemption of the firstborn was about presenting to God the things that belong to God. The law of Moses traced it back to deliverance from Egypt. But the practice of presenting the firstfruits to God, offering the very best you have to God, that goes all the way back to Cain and Abel in chapter 4 of Genesis. Abel brought the first lambs of his flock, the best lambs. Everything we have ultimately comes from God. Everything that Mary and Joseph had belonged to God. They presented Jesus at the temple, the firstborn son, because he already belonged to God.

And that offering of Jesus to God was affirmed and celebrated in the response of Simeon and Anna. Luke doesn’t tell us the exact words of Anna’s prophecy. Just that she spoke to everyone who would listen about the redemption of Israel. It was Jesus the firstborn son who was redeemed with two doves, but it was the entirety of God’s people who would be redeemed by the offering of Jesus. Jesus was a human being, redeemed with an offering like any other firstborn. God offers Jesus, God offers his firstborn, only son, Jesus, who is God himself, as the redemption for us. Jesus shared flesh and blood with us, the letter to the Hebrews says. Jesus was a baby and grew into an adult just like any of us, and that’s what makes Jesus able to destroy death with his own death. 

Luke tells us what Simeon said when he saw Jesus: 

For these eyes of mine have seen the Savior, *

whom you have prepared for all the world to see.

A Light to enlighten the nations,

and the glory of your people Israel.

Jesus is the savior. The light that enlightens all nations. Simeon has been waiting his whole life for this. On this winter day, halfway to spring, we can finally see the light winning. Mary’s tiny first born baby, redeemed with a humble offering of two doves, is God in flesh and blood. Jesus gave his own flesh and blood as an offering to redeem all people. These eyes of mine have seen the Savior, whom you have prepared for all the world to see. A light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel.

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