Preached by Brenda Holden on 3 February 2019: Presentation of Christ
Preached by Brenda Holden on 3 February 2019: Presentation of Christ Luke 2:22-40
Chance encounters have the potential to alter lives. As we look back on our personal life experiences we have all had nudges to be in a particular place at a particular time and that has resulted in a significant change in the direction of our lives. At the time we might not have been aware of God’s hand at work, but later reflection removes the ‘chance’ element in the encounter and we are thankful!
Our Gospel reading this morning related a chance encounter like that. It was a chance encounter of three different generations of God-fearing folk in the Temple. There is no doubt that God put them there!
Simeon and Anna were representatives of the oldest generation in the encounter. They were part of the faithful remnant who, all through the long centuries, had kept faith and hope alive; Mary and Joseph as the parents were the middle generation and the infant Jesus, God’s Son, was the youngest.
Simeon and Anna were regularly seen around the Temple in Jerusalem. From Luke’s description it was obvious that Simeon fulfilled the vocation of a prophet although according to the Jewish teachers of that time, the spirit of prophecy had departed from Israel after the prophet Malachi and its return would be a sign that the longed-for Messiah was on the way.
Simeon clearly illustrated three aspects of the Spirit of prophecy- firstly, we read that he receives divine revelation that he shall see the Lord’s Messiah before his death. Secondly, he is led by the Spirit to the Temple that day to be in the right place at the right moment and thirdly, he utters a prayer, the Nunc Dimittis, which is regarded as a prophecy.
Anna, was described as a prophet by Luke – our hearts go out to Anna – she was 84 and had lived a prayerful life within the Temple since she was widowed after 7 years of marriage. She is the sort of person who had become part of the the Temple environment going about her day to day prayerful life. She was there for strangers. A friendly, wise and approachable old lady. The significance of her part in the encounter that day earned her being named and as a woman in the Gospel stories that is quite unusual.
Mary and Joseph’s presence in the Temple that day with their baby must have been planned in advance. They could have performed the rites of obligation after the birth at their local synagogue, but they chose to travel to Jerusalem as they were aware of the responsibilities they had as the earthly parents of God’s Son. Perhaps their concerns that day showed through their body language and attracted the attention of Simeon. They were poor country folk who had come to do the right thing according to Jewish traditions, but they could only afford the poorest offering for sacrifice for the birth of their first-born son.
There were three parts to the obligation laid down to be completed and Simeon could help them through the procedures that were new to them. The first part involved the purification of the mother so that she could return to the worshipping community after childbirth. The second part was a redemption of the first born male through a gift to the priest, and the third part was to dedicate the child to the service of God.
It was when Simeon took the baby in his arms that he must have felt overwhelmed by the presence of God. The light of God’s love shone out of this baby. The words of the Nunc Dimittis immediately overflowed from his lips – this song which is now included in Evensong and the late night service of Compline.
The song is a prayer to God. It is joyful, it is hopeful, it declares the Messianic role of Jesus to be a light to all nations. Israel’s glory is to be shown as a revelation and redemption to the whole world. Simeon had fulfilled his role and he was now free to die in peace.
The second part of what Simeon said was a prophecy to Mary. The joy and praise turns to a warning that the Messiah will cause division and He will be rejected by many. The idea of a Suffering Messiah is introduced. Jesus will transform ideas and will challenge existing religious authorities. Mary is warned that there is anguish and suffering ahead for her, but Jesus will be good for all people.
The message of Simeon was reinforced through the words of Anna who was so overcome with this encounter that she became the first evangelist. We can imagine her spreading the good news of the arrival of the Messiah to everyone she encountered from that day onwards.
Mary and Joseph left this chance encounter with much to think and pray about – they were being prepared for the unexpected way that God’s Son would fulfil His mission.