My Eyes Have Seen Your SalvationDecember 30, 2012, 9:00 am & 11:15 am & 7:30 pm
First Sunday After Christmas Day
Global Ministry Fellow
Order of Worship | Download
As we continue our walk through the gospel of Luke, we encounter two important events in Jesus’ early life. This past week, we have been celebrating Jesus’ birth and we are still celebrating Christmastide. Today, we take a look at these two events, which are all that Luke tells us about Jesus’ infancy and boyhood. These events would be important for any male baby in Israel.
First, Luke gives us a brief account of Jesus’ circumcision and naming. According to Jewish law, babies are to be circumcised and named on the eighth day after their birth, and Jesus in no exception. Through circumcision, Jesus is marked as a child of the covenant. Just as baptism is a sign of our being members of the body of Christ today, Jesus’ circumcision is a sign that he is among God’s chosen people. In Jesus’ circumcision, he also becomes subject to God’s law. Jesus Christ is not exempt from God’s law, but will ultimately fulfill it. In this account there is also an emphasis placed the name given to this child–“And he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” There is no confusion, here, as there was with the naming of John, but there is also no mention of Joseph. Instead, it is made clear that Jesus’ name has come from God–as pronounced to Mary by one of God’s messengers.
When Jesus is not quite six weeks old, Mary and Joseph take him to the temple in Jerusalem. According to the Law of Moses, Mary must be purified 40 days after giving birth and the child must be consecrated. Luke is letting us know that Mary and Joseph are devout Jews, doing all they can to fulfill the law. They come to present their child and offer a modest sacrifice. Mary and Joseph offer two small birds, because they do not have the means to bring a sheep.
The God of Israel enters his temple humbly, simply, and most do not even take notice. The Lord of all creation, the mighty hand that established and protects Israel, is present in this little one. If I were writing the story, this is where the angels would descend and God’s glory would shine out from the Holy of Holies. The voice from heaven, which proclaims Jesus as God’s son, would not wait until his baptism, but shout out now! All of the people would fall on their faces and worship the Christ child. But I am not writing this story, and God has much more patience than me.
Instead, Mary and Joseph appear as just another couple bringing their infant for the ritual acts that will make him part of God’s covenant people. Luke tells us nothing of the religious leaders who must have taken part in these rites of circumcision, purification, and sacrifice. They are certainly present, but there is no indication that they recognize Jesus as the Messiah. Israel is waiting for their Messiah, but most are expecting a strong military leader, who will drive out the Romans occupying their land and reestablish Israel as a political powerhouse. They think they know what to expect, so they miss the unexpected way that God enters his temple.
However, Jesus’ presence does not go totally unnoticed. Imagine with me: Mary and Joseph bringing Jesus to the temple. They hold their infant close as they enter the temple grounds. Is Mary expecting something out of the ordinary to happen? Are the mysterious circumstances of her child’s paternity and the strange events of his birth playing on her mind? Does she want some confirmation from the temple priests about the importance of her son for Israel? Or is she hoping all will go as usual? Whatever her thoughts, as the young family enters the temple, they encounter Simeon. Luke tells us that Simeon is “righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.” Simeon is the image of the expectant Israel, awaiting God’s Messiah. We don’t know too much about him–how old he is or what he does for a living. But we do know that he is faithful, that God has promised he will see the Messiah before he dies, and that the Holy Spirit is with him. It is at the prompting of the Spirit that Simeon comes to the temple. Whatever else Simeon was doing that day, he is interrupted and follows the prompting of the Spirit to an encounter with the Christ child.
What happens when Simeon encounters this child? First of all, Simeon embraces Jesus. Simeon takes the infant into his arms. This is not some abstract meeting of God and humankind, but an intimate and precious moment. Holding the baby Jesus in his arms, Simeon begins to sing praise to God. He speaks of God’s fulfillment of his promise–both to send a Messiah for Israel, and the promise to Simeon, that he would personally see this Messiah. “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” God’s salvation is made known through Jesus Christ, this little baby, wrapped in Simeon’s embrace.
Mary and Joseph stand amazed. I love that Mary and Joseph never get tired of the wonder of it all. They have been told that this baby will be the Messiah, the one who will save God’s people, but they are finding out what that means. The mystery continues to grow as Mary stores up Simeon’s words with Gabriel’s and those of the shepherds. Simeon also blesses Mary and Joseph. Then, he turns his attention to Mary, saying:
“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
These are no longer words of praise, but a prophesy of upheaval, struggle, and pain. What lies ahead for this baby? What kind of message is this for proud new parents? What kind of Messiah will cause such turmoil in Israel and in his own mother’s life?
While many in Israel claim to be God fearing, and think they are righteous, their reaction to Jesus–God in their midst–will reveal their true attitudes and thoughts. They will reject their Messiah, hanging Jesus on a cross to die on a hill that is not too far from where Simeon now stands with the Christ child nestled in his arms. Simeon has seen the Lord’s salvation, both in his arms this day and as a glimpse of what it will cost. Israel’s expectations–and God’s reality–will clash as this salvation is worked out. The road to our salvation will be marked with suffering.
Luke tells us of one more person who takes notice of Jesus at the temple that day, the old prophet Anna. Anna is a bit of an odd character. She has spent most of her life hanging around the temple. Anna is continually worshipping God, fasting and praying, day and night. To be honest, some people probably thought she was crazy. She has been hanging around the temple for about 60 years; she has devoted her life to God and is a prophet to God’s people. Anna has been speaking about what God will do, but on this day, she will witness what God is doing. When Anna encounters the Christ child, her first response is praise to God. She recognizes Jesus as the Messiah and, like Simeon, bursts into praise. I imagine Anna as a weathered old woman, filled with new life and excitement upon seeing this baby in the temple. Anna is changed from prophet to evangelist–she begins to speak “about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Anna has good news for all who are waiting for God’s salvation to come to Israel–it is here!
Simeon and Anna testify that God’s Messiah has indeed come. They are not the ones we would expect to announce his arrival, but God often works in ways we do not expect. How do we react when we meet God in unexpected ways? Do we doubt or brush it off, continuing on with our normal routine? Or do we take time to praise our Father, adore his Son, and become Spirit-filled to proclaim what God has done?
Simeon and Anna are given eyes to see this little baby as God’s son, the Christ, the Savior of Israel and all peoples. Instead of a heavenly fanfare welcoming Jesus into the temple, Simeon sings, delighted and rejoicing over the baby cradled in his arms. And old Anna proclaims the good news to all who will listen. May God give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and a song to praise what God is doing in our midst. Amen.
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