The Presentation of Jesus
You may not realise it but the scripture we read, and the time at which we read it, is exactly mirroring the early days of Jesus.
There were two big events after a child’s birth in the time of Jesus, the first was when a baby boy would be circumcised, eight days after birth, and the second was the child’s presentation at the temple, 40 days after birth.
We are here this Sunday, 40 days after Christmas Day, 40 days after the celebrated birth of Jesus, or at least, very close to it (as it was yesterday).
The easiest way to think about this event, of Presentation, is our modern-day Baptism. When the baby is brought into the church, committed to the God before witnesses, and blessed.
The event was one that was totally normal for a Jewish family, as indicated in the first verse that we read "When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.”
This morning, I want to reflect on the characters in the scene and how they all came together, in a very remarkable way. Five people gathering in the temple in Jerusalem – Mary, Joseph, Jesus, Simeon and Anna.
This small section of scripture is a treat. It is a beautiful story; a window on the lives of just a few people who were and are very special to God the Father.
But just before we think about the temple and the events inside, it’s worth pausing, to think about how they all get there.
This temple is in Jerusalem, but if you remember, Joseph and Mary had been living in Nazareth before they were obliged to travel to Bethlehem for the Roman census in December.
And by the way, that 80 mile path over a mountain range, would not have been easy for someone heavily pregnant.
After the birth in the stable, it seems they either rented or were given a place to live, perhaps by Joseph’s relatives, because in Matthew 2, we learn that the wise men visited the family in a house, not in the stable, and I think when we pick up the story today, it is with them living in Bethlehem, in a borrowed or rented house – probably not much more than a room.
On the morning of the ceremony today, they will have travelled from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, a distance of about five miles. Another quite long walk for a young girl who has very recently given birth.
And while we tend to have these big baptismal services, with lots of family invites, we don’t get the impression that Mary and Joseph have anyone but themselves and the baby for the event.
They probably set off after a pretty disturbed night, for a long walk on a dusty road, wondering if they will find the temple quiet or busy, and welcoming or not.
So, they arrive at the temple.
I assume it’s not on the Sabbath because when we read the story it seems as though its quiet.
I am not sure if the temple was every ever quiet in those days, because it tended to be a meeting place, as well as a place of worship, but they seem to enter a quiet area, perhaps a little like our Bedgebury chapel, just to the side here.
The temple clearly had many rooms because the text says that "moved by the Spirit, Simeon went into the temple courts”.
And we have this immediate picture of Simeon and Joseph and Mary and Jesus, together, thrown together.
I wonder how did that happen. How did Simeon and Joseph and Mary encounter each other that morning. How did they connect?
Had Simeon been there for many hours, just waiting, knowing that he was to wait for something but not knowing what.
Was he engrossed in conversation as they arrived? Was he trying to make sense of his feelings, and seeking advice? Was he kneeling in prayer or sitting and reading?
Wherever he was and whichever door they came through, I think he knew instantly it was them, it was the child, that he had a truly divine appointment with.
Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God.
We only know of Simeon what is told in this passage. He is mentioned nowhere else in the bible. But, while this is the only time he is mentioned, we seem to learn a lot about him.
First, Simeon was "righteous and devout”. He was a good man. And I sense he was pretty old now.
"He was waiting for the consolation of Israel”. He was waiting for Israel to be restored, to recover from subjugation under the Roman Empire. He was part of a people under domination.
‘The Holy Spirit was on him”.
We tend to think of the Holy Spirit as someone, or a power, who only came when Jesus left the world, but He was present on occasion in the Old Testament times, and it is clear this man knew the presence of God, and that God had called him to the temple that day. Indeed "Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts”.
This old gentleman had felt the call of the Lord to go to the temple on this day and at this moment.
And what is remarkable, is that sometime in the past, the Lord had spoken to Simeon. We don’t know how, whether it was a quiet voice, or an Angel visiting, or just a dream, but the Lord had promised Simeon that he would see the Messiah before he died.
What were the circumstances of that promise, when had the Father spoken? Why has Simeon trusted and believed that promise all that time? We just don’t know.
But what is totally clear is that Simeon immediately recognised the promised saviour of the Jewish people in this month-old baby boy, brought by his parents who came with the smallest of offerings for the temple.
Listen to the words of verse 29, "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel”.
In extraordinary fashion, he saw this baby as the salvation for not just the Jewish people but for the Gentiles too. This was totally revolutionary.
Mary and Joseph were open mouthed, as you could imagine.
"The child’s father and mother marvelled, they were amazed, at what was said about him”
Then Simeon blessed them.
They knew that their child was special. From the announcement that Mary was pregnant, to the visitation of shepherds and Kings after his birth, to the wise men visiting the house.
And Simeon does much more than just pray a blessing upon them. He prophesies, he speaks of the future.
"The child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own heart too”
What did Mary make of that last word? That "a sword will pierce your own heart too”?
Did Mary sense that this would mean grief? The words directly parallel the description of the Centurion piercing the side of Jesus at the Cross.
It is at this moment that we are introduced to the last character in our story. Anna. And what a remarkable character for the Lord to have there at that moment for Mary.
Anna has known grief, but she knows the love of God deeply.
As with Simeon, we only know what is said in this text, but we glimpse enough of who she is to understand.
We are told that she was married, but only for seven years.
In those days, one would have married at a much younger age than today, and she may have married just in her mid-teens.
We are told that she is really old – and specifically that she is 84 years old. She will have been a widow for 50-60 years.
Anna has known grief and she has known loneliness. Who better to be beside Mary at this moment when there is joy in the prophecy of her son’s life but also impending sadness.
I wonder, when Mary was before the Cross on the day of the crucifixion, when she saw her son brutally violated, was she able to recall that very special day in the temple in Jerusalem, thirty years earlier, with those trusted friends of God, and take comfort in knowing that however it looked, all was part of God’s plan?
We have two witnesses to this blessing of Jesus in the temple. An aged gentleman and an old gentlewoman.
Two very ordinary people in the eyes of man but two very special people in the eyes of the Lord.
The Lord could have sent an angel – he did before. But he sent two people to come beside them.
Simeon was in the temple that morning because he felt the urging of the Holy Spirit to be there. Anna was there because she was there every day.
Simeon knew that one day that he would see the Messiah, the one who was to bring a message of salvation to his people. He instantly recognised this Messiah in the month-old child of Joseph and Mary.
Anna, we are told, is a prophet – one whom God speaks to and speaks through with words for others.
We sense from the text that Anna had much to say to Mary and Joseph about what was ahead – we don’t know what – but I am sure they were words to encourage and to hold on to - words of preparation.
These were two people who knew God’s heart and embraced and cared for Mary and Joseph that day. He had brought them to a safe place with wise warm people to share with.
What are the highlights for me of the story and what should we reflect on?
(1) First, for parents, verse 33. "The child’s mother and father marvelled at what was said about him [their son]” [NIV]
When was the last time we, parents, marvelled at our children? Yes, it was Jesus they had in their arms, but it was also their child.
-This week, spend some time deliberately praying for your child (whether they’re a babe in arms or a fully-grown adult). Spend time ‘marvelling’ at them and their life. Pray for them and for their faith – pray particularly that their God given destiny comes about.
-Know that God loves them even more than you do, wherever they are and wherever they are at.
(2) Children, in fact all of you, that have been through baptism, or christening, know that you were placed in the Lord’s hands, with the blessing of all around you, and that His hands are still there
-Whether you can feel it or not, God’s hands are there to be held on to. His strength is there for you.
-And if you haven’t been baptised, we can fix that. No one needs to miss out on the comfort of God’s hand. Speak to one of the leaders, consider the ceremony that names you as His.
(3) The past. Sometimes, life doesn’t quite turn out as we hope, but that doesn’t mean it is going to be empty
-Anna lost her love at such a young age, she probably felt she lost everything in losing her husband. And while you might not think she had much of a life afterwards, being in the temple every day, think again. Think about how many lives she must have touched with her words of comfort, encouragement, and prophecy, as they came through the doors in need. A full life.
-This week, notice something in your life – either something that’s going on at the moment, or something that happened in the past – that is difficult. Ask God to help you find seeds of hope. When you’ve finished, give thanks to Him.
(4) The future. Our timing is not God’s timing
-We have no idea how long before this story it was that Simeon was told by God that he would meet the Messiah. He may have wondered for each day of the last 50 years whether it was going to be the day.
-Waiting for God’s promise, whether specific or general, doesn’t mean putting everything else on hold- we know that Simeon was a righteous and devout man. He wasn’t bitter, he wasn’t frustrated, and he lived with hope. He saw hope come to bear.
-This week, take some time to look back over your life. Notice when God was particularly present or at work; what were your hopes in those moments? What promises were made by God to you during those times? As you look back, notice what has happened to those hopes and promises – have they come to birth? Are you still waiting? Perhaps you need to remind yourself of those dreams.
-Perhaps you have nothing to look forward to, no hope, no dream. That is not God’s way. He has hopes and dreams for all of us.
-If you would like someone to sit with and talk to.. and pray with and, yes… I dare to say it…, to hear from God for you, then speak to one of the ministry team in the Bedgebury Chapel after the service
For this very special moment in the life of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, the Lord did not choose kings, he did not choose the High Priest, he did not invite hangers-on. He chose two patient, faithful, loving people, one man and one woman, to help prepare mum and dad for the road ahead.
This was a special moment for Anna and Simeon too. We have no idea if they knew each other before this encounter, but what a thing to be able to share, and to share the memory of afterwards. What a joy in the twilight of their lives.
What a beautiful picture we have hidden in this scripture this morning.
A beautiful moment for Mary and Joseph to hold onto as they journey now back to Bethlehem and all the way to Nazareth, where Jesus spends his early years.
which character do you most relate to in the story and why?
which of the four reflections is most relevant for you today to hold on to and pray about?