Reading Ramblings – February 2, 2020

Reading Ramblings

Date: The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord, February 2, 2020

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

Context: Also the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany, the readings center around Mary and Jesus and are out of order from the readings we’ve had thus far in Ordinary Time. It’s not considered a festival or feast Sunday. The Gospel reading focuses on the subject of Mary and Joseph bringing their month-old son to the Temple in Jerusalem – a reasonable feat since they have stayed in Bethlehem since his birth and the journey is not too great. There Jesus’ identity and purpose are further attested to by Simeon and Anna. This is linked with the Old Testament lesson of 1 Samuel and the birth of Samuel and his dedication to God’s service at the worship site at Shiloh (this is before the Temple was built). There is the emphasis on the faithfulness of God and our response to that faithfulness in praise and worship. Both Old Testament and Gospel emphasize being where the Lord is present (his house), and the psalm echoes this response as well. The Hebrews reading highlights the humanity of our Lord, his willing obedience to all the constraints of the Law, obedience that began with his parents’ obedience and faithfulness.

1 Samuel 1:21-28 – Samuel is a fascinating figure, standing at the changeover in Israel’s history from a theocracy to a monarchy, albeit a monarchy established in the context of a theocracy. Samuel appoints both Saul and David, but appoints them not as kings (melek in Hebrew) but as princes (nagid). He stands at the end of the period of the judges and the beginning of the kings. But he himself comes from miraculous background and beginning, his birth being God’s answer to a weary, barren wife’s prayer. We should refrain from assuming God answered her prayer because of her promise (that if God gave her a son she would dedicate him to God’s service). But rather because God answered her prayer, she could make good on her promise. Samuel is unexpected, but wanted, as opposed to Jesus who was unexpected at the very least, and perhaps not necessarily desired by either his father and mother, initially. Samuel comes as the replacement to the wicked priest Eli and his sons, while Jesus comes to replace the sinfulness in all of humanity with his own righteousness. Hannah offers sacrifice to God and dedicates Samuel to the Lord, while Mary and Joseph come to fulfill the commandment to redeem the firstborn son (Exodus 13:11-16). The faithfulness of the parents should be noted in both situations, as setting the stage for and therefore directly impacting and enabling the respective ministries of their sons.

Psalm 84 – In the context of the Old Testament and Gospel this is a beautiful psalm extolling the beauty of being in God’s house. Could there be any better place in all creation to be than where God is present? The psalm combines several different elements that may mean it was either partially a pilgrim psalm when journeying to Jerusalem (vs.5-7) or perhaps part of a more ritual rite within the city involving the king (vs. 8-9). Surely to be where God dwells is a blessing in and of itself, irrespective of other honors or worldy estimations (v. 10). So for Hannah to bring her beloved child to serve God at Shiloh was not simply to fulfill a vow but to give Samuel the best she could give him, even if it meant not having him grow up at her side. And for Mary and Joseph to bring Jesus to the Temple – where a few verses later in Luke 2 a young Jesus will be found studying the Word of God with the greatest minds in Judaism – it truly is appropriate for the Son of God to be in his Father’s house. Do we look to Sunday worship with the same anticipation? Is it the same source of joy to us? Do we trust the very presence of God through his Word and Sacraments? Certainly it should be that a day in God’s court is better than a thousand days elsewhere!

Hebrews 2:14-18 – Having elaborated on how Jesus as the Son of God is superior to angels, Paul goes on to detail the miracle that despite his divine identity, Jesus is also really and truly human, incarnate, a brother in our humanity. Now Paul describes how this was necessary that Jesus might destroy the power of Satan and death from the inside out, from within our flesh and blood, as one of us. And this was for us – for human beings, not for angels. Further evidence that Jesus is not just an angel (v.16), which perhaps was one alternative explanation for Jesus’ miracles and resurrection. No, this is not the case at all, Paul states. Jesus is above the angels yet a brother in our humanity. Only in having the fully human option to sin, but refusing to exercise it in rebellion against his heavenly Father could Jesus convey his perfect righteousness to us as though it were really ours. And moreover, Jesus now has an empathy with us that is unique within the Trinity. He knows what we face, how Satan tempts and tricks us. He knows the weakness of our flesh. He knows the bitter pain of having loved ones die. Jesus as our advocate and intercessor knows our needs and predicaments intimately, because He faced them himself. Could we have a more interested, compassionate, empathetic redeemer?!

Luke 2:22-40 – The Temple is the center of Jewish life, but it is the background here. While Joseph brings Mary here for purification and to redeem their firstborn son as required by Law, Jesus quickly becomes the focus of the Holy Spirit’s inspired revelations. It is not the Temple here who brings sanctification and redemption to God’s people through sacrifices, but rather this baby is the salvation of God intended not just for the Jewish people but for all people. Simeon and Anna both speak prophetically not just to Mary and Joseph but to anyone who will listen. This child is special – this child is the long-awaited redeemer. Joseph and Mary and Jesus fulfill all the requirements of the Law. It is not just Simeon who can depart in peace but they do as well, obedient to the Word and will of God as it applies to their young family and infant son. Luke declares the child grows in strength and wisdom as well as in the favor of God. While we don’t know very many details of Jesus’ youth we can trust Luke’s assessment – based on his discussions with those who knew Jesus then, and most likely including Mary his mother – that even then the presence and favor of God was palpable with Jesus. This boy was destined to accomplish all that had been spoken of him, whether by Gabriel or Mary or Simeon or Anna. He would replace the Temple itself as the only source of sanctification and redemption through the final, perfect sacrifice of his own sinless self on our behalves as the means of defeating death and Satan and restoring all of creation to the glory God had always intended for it.

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