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CHRISTMAS 1B – December 27, 2020
Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3 – I will rejoice in the Lord. My whole being shall exult in my God… The nations shall see your vindication and the kings your glory.
Psalm 148 – Praise the Lord, heavens, heights, angels, moon, earth, sea monsters, deep, fruit trees, cedars…
Galatians 4:4-7 – When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, under the law, so we might receive adoption.
Luke 2:22-40 – Jesus’ presentation in the Temple. Simeon’s Song. A light to reveal you to the Gentiles. And the child grew in stature and wisdom.
Lent begins ten days from this coming Sunday. Have you chosen a series for Lent yet? Here are some Lenten Series Possibilities.
The photo above is a painting of the Presentation in the Temple (ca. 1502) by the high Renaissance artist known as Raphael. It is part of an altarpiece Raphael painted (oil on wood) for the Oddi family chapel in the church of San Francesco al Prato in Perugia, Italy. It is now at a museum in the Vatican.
I noticed that the Kindle version of Mikeal Parsons’ 2015 commentary on Luke (Luke, Paideia series) is now $15 at Amazon. This is one of my favorite commentaries on Luke. It’s worth having.
Parsons divides Our Text into four parts:
- Setting (2:22–24)
- Simeon (2:25–35)
- Anna (2:36–38)
- Conclusion (2:39)
22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
According to Jewish custom, the child was circumcised on the eighth day (verse 21, not in our reading). Also according to tradition, the child would be presented a month later at the temple after the mother’s purification. This is spelled out in Leviticus 12:2-8:
1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
2 “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, ‘If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean.
3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised.
4 Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed.
5 But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her menstruation. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days.
6 “‘And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering,
7 and he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female.
8 And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two 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.'”
So, after the birth of a male child, a woman was unclean for seven days. On the eighth day the child would be circumcised. Then she would be unclean for another 33 days of “purification.” This is a total of 40 days. If the baby was female, she would be unclean for 14 days at first, and then 66 days for purification. A total of 80 days.
Of course, these Bible verses never show up in the three-year lectionary cycle of readings, so if the only texts one reads are lectionary texts, one might never stumble upon this passage. (In fact, Leviticus is almost never used in the lectionary. There is only one Leviticus text in our three-year cycle of readings: Leviticus 19:1-18, a retelling of the 10 Commandments and an admonition to not strip the vineyard bare, but to leave some for the poor and for immigrants.)
Luke’s account is set over a month after the birth of Jesus. The family is still in Bethlehem, just 5–6 miles from Jerusalem. They have not yet made the trek back north to Galilee. Luke wants us to understand that Mary and Joseph are devout Jews performing their religious obligations: the purification and the dedication. This takes place in the Temple in Jerusalem. (See also Numbers 3:13 and Exodus 13:2.)
The firstborn male (a male who opens the womb) is holy to the Lord. Parsons says,
… the firstborn child should be consecrated to the Lord (Exod. 13:2, 11–16) and redeemed, or bought back, at a price of five shekels (Num. 18:15–16) as a reminder of the exodus (Reicke 1978). Like Samuel, who at his birth was dedicated to God’s service by his mother, Hannah (1 Sam. 1–2), Jesus is dedicated by Mary and Joseph to the Lord’s service. That no mention of “ransom” money is made by the narrator is intentional. Jesus is left “unredeemed” in order that he may be fully dedicated to God’s service…
This passage also reinforces the poverty of the holy family. Mary and Joseph clearly cannot afford a lamb, so they sacrificed two birds. The child is offered to the service of the Lord, like Samuel. That Mary and Joseph are poor should come as no surprise to us. 95% of Judea, Samaria and Galilee likely lived in a subsistence level.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,
31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
Along comes Simeon. He is “righteous and devout,” and the Holy Spirit rests upon him. God has promised him he will not die until he sees the promised Messiah. Seeing Jesus prompts a song. Not only has he seen salvation, but this revelation clearly signals to him that his death is near, for God has fulfilled his promise.
This song is known as the Song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis (“Now you dismiss”).
Liturgically it is sung at night prayer, compline, just as Mary’s song, the Magnificat is sung for morning prayer, matins, and the Benedictus. It is sung at evening prayer, vespers. Brian Stoffregen points out that compline is our “going to bed” liturgy. We are dismissed in peace. In our Lutheran eucharistic liturgy, it is often sung as the post communion canticle. Having seen the salvation of Christ in the sacrament, we can go in peace to serve the Lord.
Lord, now you let your servant go in peace,
Your word has been fulfilled
My eyes have seen your salvation
Which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples
A light to reveal you to the nations
And for glory to your people Israel.
To this the doxology was added:
Glory to the father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever. Amen.
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
Professor Joy Moore of Fuller theological Seminary ( http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1180) points out that Luke often uses male and female couples as witnesses to the Gospel. Joseph and Mary’s faithfulness. Elizabeth and Zechariah. Simeon and Anna in the Temple. All of them have songs. True to Luke’s account of Pentecost in Acts, the Spirit is poured out on all flesh, men and women, young and old.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.
Pastor John Stendahl says (http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=2631):
Picture the old man with the baby in his arms. He stands chuckling with giddy joy, or perhaps he gazes with streaming tears on his cheeks, or is lost in transfixed wonder; in whatever way, he is so very happy. Then he says that this is enough now, he is ready to die. He has seen salvation and he can depart in peace.
But what has happened? Nothing yet. Caesar is still on his throne. Herod is still wreaking havoc. Salvation has not been realized. Simeon has simply caught a glimpse of it, and that is all he needs. He has seen it. He has touched it.
Might not the same be true for us? As I’m writing this, the news is awash with violence in Iran, Ethiopia, Peru.
Salvation is clearly not here, but can we see it? Have we glimpsed the hope of the world? Can we say:
My eyes have seen your salvation
Which you have prepared in the sight of all peoples<
A light to reveal you to the nations…
And if so, if we have seen the future, will it not manifest itself in considerable dissatisfaction with the present? Will it not magnetically draw us to live into that future? Are we not called then to give witness now with our lives to God’s future which is coming?
For Simeon, and Anna, and us, here is the light for the nations, the light of the world. It is the way of Christ, or it is curtains for the world.