Sunday, February 2, 2014

Presentation Sermon

Presentation of Jesus – February 2nd, 2014 – Luke 2:22-32

In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +
          You know, this Gospel text was the text for the Sunday after Christmas, and it is one of my favorite texts – there’s the Nunc Dimitis, Simeon taking the child Jesus up in his aged hands and bursting into the same song we will sing in just a few minutes.  It’s a great text – and it’s one that we had just 5 weeks ago.  So why have it today?  Again.  So soon.  Because Groundhog’s day is a Church holiday… sort of.  Today is properly known as the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord – and it is 40 days after Christmas, because when the firstborn male was 40 days old, you brought the child and mother to the temple and offered sacrifices, both to purify the mother and declare her fit to be back in public and also for the sake of the child.  This day was also known as Candlemass – because it was the custom 600 years ago that if you were going to bless candles, you’d do it today.  Christ, the pure light enters the temple, we might as well bless the candles lighting our church. But there was superstition that developed around this day – as it’s almost halfway to spring – so you get the old English poem - If Candle mas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again.  Then, you add some Germans in Pennsylvania who say, “We’ll pull out a groundhog and see if he sees his shadow… and then have a party” – and there you go.  So there’s a lot of strange history and custom that goes on into this day, a lot of culture and tradition.

          So what?  So what is the point of this day, this feast, this focus?  Our Epistle lesson from Hebrews actually sums this up, explains it well.  So, let’s work our way through this text from Hebrews and consider it this morning in light of what goes on in our Gospel.  To begin, we hear, “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise partook of the same things.”  In the Nicene Creed, we confess that our Lord Jesus was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin and was made man.  So why the doubling up?  Why say that He was “incarnate” and then also “made man”?  There actually is a nuance, a note of some deep theological importance there.  To be “incarnate” simply means to have flesh, to have a body.  And you know what – if God wants to take a body, He can do so.  He’s God, He can do what He wants.  But that phrase “was made man” describes what Hebrews is talking about when it says that He Himself likewise partook of the same things.  If you’re God, you could just say BAM, and then there you are, in a body.  But when Christ comes, it’s not merely to have a body, have flesh – it is to fully take His place among us, to share in all the things of this life that we are exposed to, that were partake of.  He is like us in all ways except sin – and so what does that mean?  It means He was made man.  And He grew like you did.  He went through all the awkward stages of youth that you did.  That this is what we really see here at the Presentation of our Lord.  We can get sort of romantic and sentimental around Christmas time – we can hurry to the happy image of Mary looking bright-eyed and full of energy with perfect hair holding the happy, smiling Baby Jesus.  That’s just the image we like to have – it formed an interesting contrast for me, because that wasn’t what December 26th looked like when Ambrose was born.  When Christ Jesus comes, He doesn’t come in some super special, Hallmark card way.  He partakes in all the stuff we did.  So, 40 days after He is born, Mary heads to the temple to be purified, because giving birth isn’t easy.  Christ has offerings given up for Him, because He Himself is placed under the same Law, the same burdens, the same obligations as the rest of us.  And so here it is, you have Christ, as He is taken to the temple, shown to be fully taking His place with us.

          And where will that taking His place with us lead?  “He Himself partook of the same things, that through death He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to life long slavery.”  Taking His place with us means that Jesus is going to die.  This is what happens to men after the fall.  His incarnation was not going to be just a two week vacation away from heaven to see the sights on earth, but it He would take His place with man, even going to death.  The same Jesus who is carried in His mother’s arms to the temple is going to come to that Temple Palm Sunday, is going to preach and so anger folks with the Truth that He will be put to death.  The same Jesus who had His parents offer up two turtledoves (just like in the Christmas carol) will offer Himself up to purify and redeem His parents, to redeem us.  And the way in which He does this is to die.  There’s a great bit of language here – that through the fear of death we were subject to life long slavery.  Think about this – how much does the fear of death shape and move things in our lives?  Parents watching over their kids, going to a new place, a city, being in traffic?  How much political discourse is spent on wars and fighting – or even health care?  How much does the fear of death drive us?  It drives us like a cruel task-master, where we don’t think first and foremost about what we ought to do, we worry about death.  And it makes sense – death is a big old scary thing.  It’s a nasty tool that Satan uses to keep you fearful and afraid and miserable.  Life long slavery.

          Over and against those fears, behold Christ Jesus, your Lord.  He Himself takes His place with you.  He Himself dies, dies a death that is both gruesome and publicly embarrassing – about as bad a death as you can get.  And why?  To free you from the fear of death, to free you from that slavery that death tries to put you in.  Death is scary – but there is a greater and more profound truth.  Christ Died, and Christ rose, and so shall you.  I look forward to the resurrection of the body and the life of the world to come.  This is the heart of the Christ faith – that we defy death.  That we celebrate baptism, whereby we are joined to Christ’s death.  Why?  Because He wants us to share in His resurrection.  This is why we eat His Body that was given up for us, His Blood that was shed for us – the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the Lord’s death – and because He died and rose, so shall we.  Over and against every fear of body or death that Satan tosses in your face stands the greater truth of Christ’s Death and Resurrection.

          And this is not an accidental thing on Jesus’ part.  It’s not as though He stumbled into this death and resurrection for you.  For surely it is not angels that He helps, but He helps the offspring of Abraham.  Therefore He had to be made like His brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.  There it is.  This is all done for you, who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven.  Ponder this.  Jesus doesn’t become an angel to redeem fallen angels.  Why do you think Satan rages so fiercely against mankind, why do you think he rages so fiercely against you?  It’s jealousy.  Even as great and mighty as Satan is and was, the chief of the angels – he was always meant to be a servant.  You were created to be the brother, the sister of Christ.  To share in all that belongs to Christ.  To be valued above all creation… including the angels.  The King’s brother outranks the servants – and that’s what you are by virtue of your baptism, you are an adopted child of God.  And when Adam sinned, egged on by Satan’s jealousy and spite, fouled that up, here comes Christ, without hesitation, to become the new High Priest that we need, to make propitiation, that is the full and proper atonement for sin.  To make things all right again, to restore you to perfection, to restore you to holiness, to bring you once again to your proper place as an heir of God.    Christ Jesus does this, and He does it well.

          But what of us in the here and now?  Oh, there after the resurrection, when we are raised, when we see the dominion that we will have over the New Heavens and the New Earth, but what of now?  We get a final, beautiful nuance.  For because He Himself has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.  Jesus understands.  He does.  He gets it.  He knows, He has experienced what life in this world is like – He knows what you go through now.  And so, He is determined to aid you.  He is determined to strengthen you and encourage you with His Word, He is determined to grant you free and ready forgiveness for whenever you fail.  Over and over again.  That’s why we have the Supper so often, frankly, it’s why we should have it even more often – now may this true Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and keep you in the one true faith.  Christ understands, and He gives Himself to you so that you may be freed from sin, freed from the fear of death, freed like Simeon to sing, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”  That’s being freed from the fear of death right there.  Because this is the reality, this is the truth.  Christ Jesus loves you, He has become man to be with you now, to see that you will rise and be with Him for all eternity, that you will share in all that is His.  And Satan and Death and World can’t do a thing to stop it, because their power is broken.

When Joseph and Mary bring Jesus into that temple, they bring Jesus in to take His place as one of us, they bring Jesus in so that He can go about His business of redeeming and forgiving you and winning you eternal life with His own Blood.  The cruel slavery of death is broken, the reign of Satan must yield to the reign of Christ, and we all have been made pure in Him, all thanks be to God.  In the Name of Christ Jesus, the Light of the World +

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