Luke 2:22–40 (NRSV)
Jesus Is Presented in the Temple
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.”
25 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.”
36 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.
The Return to Nazareth
39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Christmas is often a time of year where we can reexamine what is really important in life. Sure there is quite a bit of craziness that goes along with it, when we are all going around trying to find the perfect gifts for those important people in our lives. But when it comes right down to the day, we gather around in a home together with friends and family. We laugh around cups of coffee and share stories about our lives, and we share what we have with the hopes that we can see glimmers of joy in the eyes of those we care most about.
I personally love the time of Christmas, not because of the gifts that we share but the general share of life that occurs around the holiday. And since I come from a large family that is spread across many states Christmas has always been a celebration that has extended for a long period of time. I never really realized how much of a gift that really was because we always had to extend that Christmas spirit out. It was never a single day, but a season of the year. And since my family is so large it has not been about the gifts but the sharing of life.
That is what I hope we all experience as we celebrate this season of Christmas. Our culture has tried to compress and compact everything into one day, but I hope that we are able to just stretch out and relax for a couple of weeks and just reexamine what is truly important in our lives, look around and see the great blessings that God has given us, and possibly quiet ourselves enough to hear His voice one again.
When we look at today’s passage it begins with this sort of thing. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus all go to the temple during a time of celebration to leave offerings to the God. Think about that for a moment. Even though through the eyes of the culture Mary and Joseph and Jesus for that matter were not exactly high on the social ladder, and even dropped down a few notches because of the timing of Jesus’ birth, they continued to walk down the path that they were walking. But I want us to consider the offering just for a moment. They offered two doves or two pigeons. One bird for the purification of the mother, one bird for the blessing of the child. It is important to note the offerings because this was not the offering of wealth but of poverty. If we were to lock back into the books of the law we would see that the law required a lamb, but there was a concession for the poor to offer doves instead and as time progressed they even allowed pigeons to stand in for the doves.
We may not think much of this offering but it is powerful, because it goes to show that God can do great things among people that may not have much. Both Mary and Joseph we called to participate in God’s ministry, the ministry of redemption and they did not even have enough money to offer a full sacrifice to celebrate the birth of the Messiah. Jesus was not rich. He came from a family that was not rich.
Now picture in your minds this couple walking into the temple, barely able to afford the offering yet they proudly walk into the courts to celebrate the birth of Jesus, carrying their pigeons. The temple was a busy place, filled with money changers, livestock to be sold for sacrifice, and people from all over the western and eastern empires coming to offer sacrifices in the greatest temple ever constructed by the hands of mankind. There were thousands of people walking around, trumpets being sounded, and cantors singing psalms that were echoing through the smooth and perfect walls. There is this excited holy chaos going on all around, constant worship from sunup to sundown. The air is filled with the perfumed smoke of various offerings yet in all this activity and noise an old man sees this family and is drawn to them. There is nothing that really makes them stand out from the masses, it is just another poor Jewish family offering their tiny bird.
A family that most people would not notice, a family like probably every other family walking through any Walmart today, common. Yet one old man looked at them and suddenly everything in his life seemed to make sense. You see Simeon, this old man, was a man that was righteous and devout. He spent much time in worship and in prayer, and there was a movement within him that said that he would not taste death until he saw the promised, anointed, Messiah. He was guided by the Spirit to go to the temple on that day, and when he walked into the courtyard he saw this poor common family everything within him pulled him to them as they were walking around with two small birds and a little baby. Common people, people most of us overlook every day, a young girl obviously new to married life and motherhood, and a dad that was probably equally confused. Who knows how many other young families were in queue waiting to offer their sacrifices, who knew how many others looked just the same as Mary and Joseph. Nothing stood out about them except one thing, the Spirit directed this man to them.
This is the life of the prophet. We have so twisted this gift that we either hold a prophet to being some sort of fortune teller or some sort of spiritual super star, but a prophet is simply a person that is willing to be led by the Spirit to speak truth into a situation. It is a gift, one that is to be used when we have the opportunity but it is not something that we can really ask for. Like every spiritual gift it is something that emerges through a devoted life, a life lived in a holy rhythm of worship, prayer and service.
I speak often of this holy rhythm of life, because it is so central to a balanced life that can easily be used to bless a community while not over burdening the individual. It is the very life that Jesus lived out with his disciples and the very same way of life that his disciples lived and taught after his ascension. It was probably the very type of life that Mary and Joseph lived, and most likely Simeon. It is a life that is purposeful, intentional, authentic, and real. Mary and Joseph knew that the community would look down on them personally given the circumstances surrounding the birth of their son, yet they continued to walk their life as they were led. Simeon lived his entire life with this movement within him that he would see the hope of the ages before he died, and lived his life in such a way that when he saw a common young family walk into the temple he knew immediately that his life was complete.
Simeon was not the only prophet in the temple that day. Just as Simeon was drawn to this couple Anna was as well. Anna was an old woman, a woman that had had the pleasure of marriage for seven years and had the sorrow of death surround her for approximately sixty years. She lived a rhythmic life as well. A life of fasting and prayer. She was considered a prophet by the writer of the Gospel which is odd since it was not common for that title to be given to a woman, among the first century Jewish people. But among the early follower of Jesus women honored, it was a woman that became the mother of the incarnate God. It was women that first witnessed the empty tomb on Easter morning, it was a woman that first spoke to the risen Lord. And consider this, it was a woman that first held the hands of God, to gaze upon the face of our Lord. It was a woman that first sung praises of Jesus, and to preach the Gospel of the kingdom of God in the temple. I say all of this because often religion has given women a back seat, yet women are very important in the life of Jesus. Anna was considered a prophet. We should never underestimate the potential of any individual based on gender, we should never try to limit a gift given by God based on our preconceived idea of how God works. Because if we are honest God usually works in ways that blow our minds anyway.
Two prophets are called and led to speak to this poor common family and immediately have their lives fulfilled. They look upon the face of the baby sleeping in the arms of Mary and they see something before them that no one else sees, they see hope. They see hope where everyone else sees just another poor family with a baby that they probably can’t afford. These two prophets see the messiah where everyone else sees a bastard. These two prophets see redemption, salvation, revelation, and glory for Israel and all people while everyone else in the temple just see a family. God uses the unlikely of the culture to redeem the world.
What is it we see when we look out in our community? What do we see when we watch the news of riots? What do we see when we see the protests at planned parenthood? What do we see when we see the homeless on the corner, or the immigrant working on the landscapes across this city? Do we see them as people that can expand the kingdom of God? Do we see them as human beings deserving of our love and our encouragement? Do we see them as individuals loved by the very same God that loves us? Are we able to speak truth to those people in our community in a way that will bring redemption, salvation, revelation and glory to all people? Answer the question honestly. Do not justify our answer and try to make our actions seem righteous, just answer. The truth is we do not see people the way that Simeon and Anna saw them. We are not drawn to people or led to people, we are not always able to offer ourselves to be a blessing to others because all too often we are too focused on ourselves and our own agendas. Tradition tells a wonderful story of Simeon that I find very fitting. It is said that Simeon was guided by the spirit because Simeon was a blind man, he was drawn to Jesus and began to sing over the child because when he reached the holy family the infant healed his blindness so that Simeon could see his salvation.
I mention this story because we are all blinded by the busyness of our culture, we are blinded by ideologies and prejudices, and we are blinded by finances, duty and responsibility. We are blind to what God is doing yet God calls us to a different life. He calls us to follow him. He calls us to walk out of the darkness and into the light. He calls us to join Him in the holy rhythm of worship, pray, and service a life where we become a people loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and Living the Love of Jesus with others. He is calling us to see through his eyes, to see people through the lenses of redemption, salvation revelation and glory instead of the divisive labels our culture. He is calling us to a better life so that we can breathe life into the world.