Reading Ramblings – February 2, 2014

Date:  The  Presentation of our Lord, February 2, 2014

Texts: 1 Samuel 1:21-28; Psalm 84;  Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-32(33-40)

Context: Traditionally celebrated in the Western Church as Candlemas (because church candles were blessed on this day), the Presentation of Our Lord occurs 40 days after Christmas. Christians were celebrating this occasion as early as the mid-fourth century.  Mary observes proper Jewish law by bringing Jesus to the Temple to be blessed and herself declared ritually clean. 

1 Samuel 1:21-28 — We sometimes see glimpses, foreshadowings of the events of Jesus’ life in the stories of the Old Testament.  Hannah brings her son to the priests at Shiloh; Mary brings her son to the Temple in Jerusalem.  Another miraculous child.  Another child that will be devoted to the Lord.   Hannah’s sacrifice is impressive—a young bull as well as flour and wine.  But her offering of her child is a greater sacrifice for her personally.  Mary will also know the pain of having her child sacrificed, but in a far different manner than Hannah.  In both cases there is a priest on hand who is knowledgeable about the situation—Eli who had prayed for Hannah to conceive, and Simeon who has been told by the Holy Spirit that he will see the Messiah.  

Psalm 84— Both Hannah and Mary take their sons to the Lord’s house—Hannah going to worship at Shiloh and Mary to the Temple in Jerusalem.  This psalm is a beautiful praise of the Lord’s house, emphasizing that it is better to be there than anywhere else.  While the two women in the readings today found the Lord’s house in a different place, their joy at being near the Lord’s dwelling place would have been the same, as ours can and should be today.  Where two or three gather the Lord is with them as well, consecrating their gathering and creating his home among them every bit as much as at Shiloh or Jerusalem.  What a privilege we enjoy to be in the Lord’s house in many different situations!

Hebrews 2:14-18 — Since this is a festival Sunday, we pause in our continuous reading from 1 Corinthians to switch to this passage from Hebrews that is closer in keeping with the theme of the day.  In these verses Paul eloquently argues the rationale for the Incarnation of the Son of God.  Jesus came in human form in order to redeem humanity.  He came to redeem us through death from the death and sin that holds us captive.  The ministry of Jesus is not to spiritual beings, but to human beings and so He became like us.  In doing so, He now understands us intimately—far better than we understand ourselves, either.  Knowing what it means to be tempted, He can truly intercede for us worthily.  He empathizes with us.  He knows our suffering and our struggles through experience and therefore is swift to offer forgiveness as well as help in our moments of temptation.  Jesus, presented at the Temple, becomes the great and final high priest between God and mankind.  He does not merely offer a sacrifice on our behalf, he is the sacrifice on our behalf.

Luke 2:22-32(33-40) — We see again that Jesus conforms with all of the expectations of God’s people, and that his parents begin and continue this pattern.  Based on the command of God in Exodus 13, Mary and Joseph come to redeem their son, to buy him back from the Lord through a small payment ritual.  As well, they come to offer the proper sacrifice for Mary to be acknowledged as ritually clean again after 40 days of ritual uncleanliness following giving birth.  These are the expected things.

And if Mary and Joseph have not already become accustomed to unexpected things concerning their young son, they are confronted with it once again.  Simeon and then Anna come at the Holy Spirit’s prompting to offer prophecy and praise to God.  Simeon’s praise is directed to God for fulfilling his promise to Simeon to see the Messiah.  While Simeon is probably not asking God to immediately take his life, he is acknowledging that he is satisfied to die, because God has fulfilled his promise to him. 

That promise is more than just for Simeon, that promise is a light for the Gentiles as well as for God’s people Israel (consider the reading from Matthew 4/Isaiah 9 last week).  This child is the embodiment of God’s salvation that will be made available to everyone and anyone through faith.  Simeon concludes with prophetic words for Jesus’ parents and particularly Mary.  Their son has a mighty future ahead of him that will create both loyal trust and faith as well as fervent opposition.  This will reveal the hearts of many people (based on which side they choose), and will end up with great sorrow to Mary .  Anna appears to give praise to God and to begin telling anyone who would listen about what God was planning for his people. 

 

Jesus is presented at the Temple as any firstborn male Hebrew child would ideally be.  But his presentation is anything but ordinary.  As Jesus is faithful to the dictates of God’s people, his identity is repeatedly affirmed as greater and more than just a son of Abraham.  Here at the Temple, just as at his baptism in the Jordan, Jesus fully identifies with his people, but is declared to be more and greater than his people.  He is, in fact, the representation of all people in his single self.  His actions link him to all of humanity, so that his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection can be truly said to be for the benefit of all humanity. 

 

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