Simeon and Anna Declare Jesus the Redeemer

[]We are still in the Christmas season, and this morning we look at the passages of Scripture that continue to tell the Christmas story as it unfolds beyond the manger scene to the parents who waited the amount of time necessary before the Child Jesus is to be presented in the Temple. And as they come to the Temple, they are met by Simeon who, some scholars say, was a devout priest and who others say was not a priest at all, but was a devout and faithful Israelite, that he represents them but was not in the Temple. We are uncertain about that and the debate, I'm sure, will continue for many centuries. But Simeon is the one who sees them come with the child because the Holy Spirit has led him to the Temple to be the first human being in the Gospels to proclaim him as Messiah, as before this time it was the angels who proclaimed him the Messiah.

So here is Simeon, someone who could be from outside the Temple, but also could be someone from inside the Temple, the one filled with the Spirit who does declare that this child is the Messiah, this child is the one who has been promised to Israel for centuries as foretold in the Prophet Isaiah. "This child is the one whom the Spirit has called me to proclaim Messiah." And Simeon does what he is told. And after proclaiming him Messiah, he declares to the Lord his praise and thanks that now he can die in peace knowing he has seen the Messiah that was promised for so many centuries. So Simeon does his part.

Then the Prophet Anna comes forth, one of the lesser-known prophets in the Bible…and, yes, there were women prophets. After her husband died, Anna lived in the Temple praying day and night, the Scripture says. And that is in keeping with the custom of the Israelites who were to care for the widow and the orphan. The holy Temple, which was a very large building on a very large tract of land, had some people who lived in different sections of the Temple and around the periphery. And that is where the Prophet Anna lived along with those who needed the care of the Temple. She had become a great prophet, growing in wisdom just as Jesus would grow in wisdom. She also knows and is stirred to proclaim who this child is as soon as she sees the family walk through the doors of the Temple. Coming into that outer section of the Temple, she joins them and starts telling everyone about this child and who he is, reinforcing what Simeon has already said right outside the Temple.

So here are two people, both outside the Temple…or at least not in the central core of the Temple where the holiest priests lived. And Luke, the Gospel writer, tells us that people from all over came: wise men from the East who were not Israelites, and shepherds in the field who we might suppose were Israelites (though we are not told). But people outside the chosen people are present at the birth of Christ. And Luke's Gospel tells us that the first to proclaim him Messiah are devout Israelites, but who are not part of the Temple authority. And yet they meet the Christ Child and family. They offer their blessings. And then Joseph and Mary and Jesus enter the Temple where Jesus is presented before God. What the Scripture doesn't say is he was circumcised too. That was part of the ritual. And they offered their sacrifice of two turtledoves. These words from Luke's Gospel tells us that this was a poor family because you could offer turtledoves or a lamb, but it was only poor families who offered turtledoves, or what we would know as pigeons.

So here is a lowly family met by those around the periphery of the Temple proclaiming their son Messiah after they had heard from angels that they would bear the Christ. Here this holy family has done its duty and kept Jesus ritually pure as Israelite law commanded. This is also an important aspect in the Gospel of Luke, proclaiming and making the argument that Jesus is holy and devout and kept ritually pure in the midst of all that is going on, even though those who may have come to see him in that manger scene may not have been. Jesus is proclaimed Messiah. Jesus is kept pure and holy. And Luke's Gospel reminds us of that as it continues to present the Gospel story of the proclamation of Jesus' coming, not only for the Jews but for the Gentiles, to save and to redeem all of God's people. That story will continue to unfold in the Gospel of Luke in the coming weeks and months.

But one question that begs for me to ask us, as people of this modern day who have welcomed in the Christ Child with much music and prayer and joy and love, is, "How are we proclaiming this child the Messiah in our lives?" How are we honoring this Christ Child? Have we told the story this Christmas? Have we set up the manger scene? Have we talked to our children about that and not just about Santa Claus or St. Nicholas as pervades our culture? And, believe me, Santa came to my house. But we also have four crPches (none with a removable Jesus so I can't do what our family did when I was a child, which was to go and find Jesus and put him in the manger scene on Christmas morning).

But are we proclaiming Jesus the Christ, the Messiah in our lives and in our households? Are we recognizing that he came to redeem us as well as those people of ancient times, that he came to redeem those whom we know and love, and those who we may not know and may not love, that he has come as God's promise to redeem all people, and that those who proclaimed him Redeemer first were those from the periphery of the Temple? Who around the periphery of our temple, our church, do we consider to be outside of that offering of God's love? Are there people whom we don't see as redeemable? If we truly proclaim Jesus the Messiah in our lives, we will shape our lives around the boldness of the Gospel stories, and especially the boldness in the Gospel of Luke which says that Jesus came for all people, not just to redeem Israel. And that is important for us to remember.

That is not a difficulty in this church, for we do welcome everyone who comes and are glad to see the family of faith grow here. But I encourage all of us to examine our lives in this holy season and to ponder that question, "How am I proclaiming this Messiah Child in my life? How am I showing that I am one of the redeemed and that God has come for all?" That is an unfolding question. How many of us will be that Prophet Anna, and how many will be the devout Simeon? Not all can take those roles, and God's grace abounds in each of us. But let us pray that in some way, even some small way, we may find a way to live out that proclamation that our Messiah, our Redeemer has come, and that we have that sense of joy and peace which should pervade. Let us pray on that, and let us be filled with the Spirit.

December 28, 2008

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