Sermon for the Purification of Mary and Presentation of Our Lord, AD 2021

Luke 2:22-40

The Feast of the Purification of Mary and Presentation of Our Lord may be one of the longest names for a feast day in the church year calendar, if not the longest. For many years in English-speaking churches it has been also known as Candlemas, like Christmas, but with candles, because it was the day the new candles were dedicated in the church, remembering Jesus as the “light to lighten the Gentiles.” This day, exactly forty days after Christmas, brings us a great lesson capping off the very end of the Christmas season. In this final account of Jesus’ birth and early years, the scriptures give us a clear example of Christ submitting to the law on our behalf, and wonderful examples to Christians of the life of faith.
We know of course that Mary and Joseph had great faith – Mary accepting that she would bear the Son of God in her womb, and Joseph taking responsibility as adoptive father of Jesus. As they trusted in God, their faith was shown by following the commandments he had set for the Jewish people in the Old Testament. One was that the women would come 40 days after birth of a son to be declared clean by the priest so they could again worship. Now this does not mean that birth is evil or sinful, or that women were unbelievers after giving birth. This was a law given by God through Moses which determined when it was appropriate to gather for worship with others. Now those laws are fulfilled in Christ and no longer apply to Christians. We see that Mary, also bearing the holy Son of God, submitted to God’s law as an example, out of love. So we also should submit to one another, even doing things we may not be required to do out of love, as long as it does not go against our conscience.
The second and more important part of this visit to Jerusalem was to present Jesus at the temple, as he was Mary’s firstborn son. After saving the Israelites from the Egyptians, God gave them this commandment, that “Every male who first opens the womb should be called holy to the Lord”. God had sent the last plague against the Egyptians, killing their firstborn sons, while passing over every Israelite who put the blood of the lamb on their doorpost. From them on God declared all first born sons of the Israelites, whether people or animals, were holy and dedicated to Him in order to remember their deliverance from slavery. The firstborn animals would be given as sacrifice and the meat would be given to the priests, but firstborn boys would have to be paid for with an animal sacrifice. So this is why Mary and Joseph, following God’s law, bring two turtledoves to the temple for Jesus.
Ultimately, the dedication of the firstborn is supposed to remind us that Jesus Christ is the true firstborn, in whose blood we are cleansed and sanctified. He died as a sacrifice for us. His whole life was one of humility, holding back his divine power and fulfilling God’s law in the most humble way. The fact that Mary and Joseph gave two turtledoves, and not a lamb, shows that Jesus’ family was very poor. Yet Jesus is presented in the temple, keeping God’s law in our place, with almost no one in that busy place recognizing him as the son of God.
No one but two old people – Simeon and Anna. No high priest, scribe, or pharisee acknowledged Jesus. Just two people of little worldly importance, but of great faith. Simeon was a man of faith, with a believing, godly heart. He did not trust in works of the law, but in Jesus Christ, the coming consolation of Israel, the one who would save his people from their sins. Simeon so longed to see Christ, the savior of the world, that he constantly prayed to God for it. The Holy Spirit told him he would see the Lord’s Messiah before he died. Anna as well, was a woman who lived much of her life as a widow, and prayed and fasted and was in worship whenever possible. This godly woman was of the first to know and tell people that their savior had come.
We hear Simeon’s godly joy when he takes baby Jesus into his arms and sings his hymn. “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace” means he is ready to die, his desire to see the Savior has been fulfilled. “For my eyes have seen your salvation” means the one who will destroy the devil, death, and hell, the one who will conquer sin and save all people is before his eyes and in his arms. “Whom you have prepared before the face of all people,” the Savior of whom the world will sing.
Thus we sing Simeon’s song after every communion, when we partake of Jesus’ body and blood. There we have Jesus bodily present with us, the one who has saved us and destroyed death and sin. Yet too often we come to the Lord’s Supper as if it is nothing. Too often we sing Simeon’s song as if it doesn’t mean anything to us. Do you, like Simeon, eagerly desire to see the Lord? Do you acknowledge how he comes to you week after week in his body and blood or take it for granted? Repent, and realize you sin, your great need, and see your Savior here.
For as Simeon reported to Mary, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” Jesus becomes a sign that is opposed, like a target set up in a firing range. Everyone would aim his curses at Christ and be set against him. Old enemies will become friends just to oppose Jesus. But they cannot defeat Jesus.
A sword would pierce Mary’s soul because, being Jesus’ mother, she would have to bear seeing the suffering of her Son. She would see the Jewish leaders plotting to persecute and trick him. She would see him betrayed by Judas and taken to trial. She would see him beaten and bloodied, and finally crucified.
Yet all this was for her, and for us. All this was so Jesus, keeping the whole law for us, could bear all our sins and take the punishment we deserve. All this was so that Jesus could rise from the dead, the firstborn of the resurrection. In Him, we shall rise also. He is the firstborn, he opened the grave and now death cannot hold anyone who is in Christ.
After his dedication at the temple, Jesus grew as a man – godly, capable, compassionate, wise – this all part of his perfect human nature. This life he gives to us now, for in His life He perfectly did what was right and gives us the ability to begin to do so as well. Through the Holy Spirit He gives us trust to be like Mary, bearing all things out of love, or Simeon, living in joyful thanks for our savior. For we are the second-born, our new man has arisen in baptism, and we begin our life of the resurrection with Jesus now to be completed on the final day when there will be no night, but only the “light for revelation the Gentiles,” Jesus Christ. Amen.

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