When eight days had passed, Jesus’ parents circumcised him and gave him the name Jesus. This was the name given to him by the angel before he was conceived. 22 When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24 They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
25 A man named Simeon was in Jerusalem. He was righteous and devout. He eagerly anticipated the restoration of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 The Holy Spirit revealed to him that he wouldn’t die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 Led by the Spirit, he went into the temple area. Meanwhile, Jesus’ parents brought the child to the temple so that they could do what was customary under the Law. 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God. He said,
29 “Now, master, let your servant go in peace according to your word,
30 because my eyes have seen your salvation.
31 You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples.
32 It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and a glory for your people Israel.”
33 His father and mother were amazed by what was said about him. 34 Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “This boy is assigned to be the cause of the falling and rising of many in Israel and to be a sign that generates opposition 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your innermost being too.”
36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, who belonged to the tribe of Asher. She was very old. After she married, she lived with her husband for seven years. 37 She was now an 84-year-old widow. She never left the temple area but worshipped God with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 She approached at that very moment and began to praise God and to speak about Jesus to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
39 When Mary and Joseph had completed everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to their hometown, Nazareth in Galilee. 40 The child grew up and became strong. He was filled with wisdom, and God’s favor was on him.
I want to invite you all to turn in your Bibles to one of our favorite and most beloved scriptures – Leviticus 12 – isn’t that a laugh. Leviticus is a book of prescribed ritual for the people of Israel. I suppose it is good reading if you need a cure for insomnia! But this particular chapter goes to the setting of this morning’s scripture. It contains the ritual for cleansing after a woman gives birth to a child.
Our scripture from Luke comes immediately after the shepherd’s story surrounding the birth of Jesus. Again, as prescribed in Leviticus, at eight days a newborn male child is presented in the Temple for circumcision and naming. Jesus was circumcised and named on that day. Thirty-three days later comes the ritual cleansing with sacrifice, again in the Temple. The prescribed sacrifice is a one-year-old lamb and a pigeon or turtledove. Leviticus 12 states that the appropriate sacrifice can be modified “if the mother cannot afford it.” In that case two pigeons or turtledoves will suffice. Reminding us that Mary and Joseph were poor, common people, this was all very ordinary.
Imagine, if you will, what it must have looked like. An equivalent today might be the typical shots for infants at 6 weeks old. Now imagine that all families in Wyoming have to come to one location – say the hospital in Casper - to have this done. Oh, yes, and it must be on the 42nd day after birth. This is just an ordinary task, but it is surrounded by chaos. That might be a picture of the Temple. Every faithful mother and her baby would be coming on their 42nd day to offer sacrifice. One, two, five, ten families a day might be coming from all over Israel to take care of this mundane task.
But into this scene the extraordinary is infused into ordinary. As with 42 days earlier where the shepherds with their flocks were blessed with angels and the sight of the baby Jesus. They were blessed with good news of great joy! Now in midst of a ritual cleansing, God shows up in a big way through two persons nearing the end of their lives. Simeon, an old man, was “led by the spirit” and shows up at the right time at the right place. Anna, likewise, “at that very moment”, as one who was an 84-year-old widow, shows up at the right time and right place. They both showed up in the ordinary chaotic life of the Temple with extraordinary words of revelation.
So, here is the essence of their messages. This baby, now six weeks old, is the salvation for the people of God and beyond. “You prepared this salvation in the presence of all peoples. It’s a light for revelation to the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel.” [verses 30-32] It was a blessed revelation “to everyone who was looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.” WOW! Salvation, light, glory, redemption – all in the form of a six-week-old baby. I want to remind you about what it meant in Israel to redeem someone. It was to purchase them back as in a “kinsman redeemer”. In the Old Testament book of Ruth we have the story of Boaz coming to redeem Naomi and Ruth. Without that redemption, these two widows would have been in bondage and poor for the rest of their lives. Jesus came to purchase our salvation, so to speak, so we would not have to live in bondage to the world.
“Revelation” is a key word in this grandly extraordinary story. Simeon’s story begins with a revelation from God that he would not see death until he had seen the “the Lord’s Christ” – the anointed one. Then, he reveals the impact of this baby in his statement to Mary and Joseph. The last thing he says, in verse 32, was a real game-changer. This little one is not just the Savior for the people of Israel, God’s chosen ones, but also for the Gentiles as well. This is not a grand billboard flashing out the news. It is just something revealed to those who “show up” in the ordinary of life. It is made clear to those who are watching for the grandly extraordinary hand of God. In a study from last year, Robert Morris, in Frequency encourages us to show up for God as though it is an appointment. The subtitle of the study was “Tune in. Hear God.” He encourages us to make a daily appointment with God and then show up. Make it a priority to listen for and watch for God in the ordinary of every day.
What might God reveal to you if you are open to hearing? It may be something as mundane as ‘this is a good time to take care of that task you’ve been avoiding and then you might get a better night’s sleep.’ It may be just a name – someone close to you, or even a past acquaintance – who needs a word of encouragement today. It might even be a life-changing word that moves your life in a whole new direction.
Every year, on Christmas Eve, I remember an amazing revelation that came to me as I listened to the story of the shepherds. It was the twenty-fifth Christmas I had celebrated. I was in the choir loft, sitting at the piano waiting to play the next carol. In that ordinary moment, while I was engaged in the flow of the service, God spoke through a wonderful servant he had raise to ministry many years before. Frank Dawson was retired from full-time ministry and was our minister of visitation. In his warm, pastoral voice came the story of that first Christmas. Then, out of the blue, came God’s invitation for me to enter ministry.
God is always at work, always showing up. Bless yourself with the memories of when God has showed up in in the middle of the ordinary in extraordinary ways. Nurture the memories of the ordinary moments with God as well. Then ask yourself, “What can I do today and this week to be fully present in the ordinary and watching for the hand of God?” You never know what God might reveal, or who God might use to make that revelation. Amen.
Pastor Paul Grossman