Sunday, February 2, 2014

Sermon -- The Presentation of our Lord (February 2, 2014)

LUKE 2:22-40

In the name + of Jesus.

     The proud parents came to the Temple.  They were not there to show off their child, but to do what the Law had required.  The Lord had spared the firstborn sons of Israel at the first Passover, and so he declared that every firstborn son of Israel belonged to him.  Israelites, therefore, were to redeem their firstborn sons with an offering.  In obedience to God’s Law, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple on his 40th day.  And because they were poor, Joseph and Mary presented their two doves to redeem their son, Jesus. 
     Jesus’ first entry into the temple could have gone remarkably unnoticed.  An Israelite couple brought a baby into the temple.  They offered the appointed sacrifice.  And they would have quietly slipped away and returned home.  But there is more here than meets the eye.  The prophet Malachi had foretold this day some four centuries earlier:  And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple; and the messenger of the covenant in whom you delight, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)  Not just in fulfillment of the Law, but also of the Prophets: The Lord has come to his temple. 
     Jesus also came in fulfillment to a particular promise to Simeon.  This man was … waiting for the consolation of IsraelAnd it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Christ.  (Luke 2:25-26)  Directed by the Lord, Simeon came into the temple that day to see the Lord’s Christ.  In your mind’s eye, you might envision an elderly man being moved by the sight of a baby.  While he was moved, it was not just any baby that did it.  Rather, he confessed, “My eyes have seen your salvation.” (Luke 2:30)  This baby is the one who would save.  He would fulfill every sacrifice by being a sacrifice himself.  This Israelite who was redeemed by a blood sacrifice would redeem all Israel by the sacrifice of his own blood.  He would bring consolation to hearts which are troubled by guilt and are fearful of death.  Simeon no longer feared his own death; for he held in his arms the one who would guarantee the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.  Simeon praised God, for the Lord had come to his temple.
     It is no accident that the temple is where Simeon and Anna found their Lord.  Do you remember what they were waiting for?  The consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem.  Simeon and Anna were expectant and hopeful for the one who would fulfill the very purpose of the temple.  The temple is where the Lord dwelt with his people.  But now the Lord did not come in a cloud of smoke, and he was not hidden in the Holy of Holies.  The Lord had come in person, in the flesh.  God was pleased to dwell with his people.  The Lord had come into his temple.
     The temple is also where the sacrifices were offered every day.  It is the place where God proclaimed his atonement for the sins of his people.  Blood was shed at the slaughtering of each animal.  Their bodies were placed on an altar where they were turned to smoke.  The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and forgave theirs sins.  In the case of some sacrifices, the whole animal was not consumed by fire.  For certain offerings, a portion of the meat was given back to the one who brought it for a sacrifice.  The man and his family feasted on this meal, which was sacred to the Lord.  In this way, the Lord declared fellowship with his people who had been reconciled with him.  Jesus is the fulfillment of all these offerings.  He is the Lamb slain for your sins.  He shed his blood for you.  He was consumed by God’s wrath for you.  He comes in the sacred meal where the Lord declares his favor and fellowship with you.
     The Lord has come to his temple.  Where else should we expect to find him?  And in the same way, if we desire God’s mercy, we must go where he is to be found.  I have heard people try to rationalize why they do not come to church.  “I can worship God just as well from my boat as I can in church.”  “When I am at the beach, there is where I can truly commune with God.”  “Sometimes, I just find my quiet place and think about God.  That’s worship.”  That’s wrong.  It is a Satanic lie that God comes to bless you where you think he should come to bless you.  Do not rationalize why it is okay to stay away from God’s house.  Repent, and come back as soon as you can.  For, this is where God pours out his mercy and applies his forgiveness.  Israel was told that the Lord appeared to them at the temple.  That was the only place where he atoned for their sins and blessed them.  That is why Simeon and Anna found the Lord is in the temple.  
     Of course, Jesus does not come to you in person today.  So where do you find the Lord so that he will save and bless, console and redeem?  Where do your eyes see God’s salvation?  It is where Jesus told us he would come to bless us—in his word and sacraments.  This pulpit is where you hear the voice of your Lord preached to you.  This font is where you receive the washing of renewal for the forgiveness of your sins.  This altar is where you partake in the sacred meal in which the Lord takes away your sins and declares his favor upon you.  The Lord gives his gifts and his salvation through these things and not through the beauty of creation or quiet contemplation.  The Lord comes to you in word and sacraments.  This is how the Lord creates and sustains faith.  This is how the Lord takes up his dwelling in you.  This is how the Lord makes YOU his temple.  And this is how the Lord remains in you so that you remain his temple.
     The Lord had come to his temple.  Simeon spoke about the child and what he would do.  Parents might be prepared to gush when someone comes to talk about their newborn baby.  But this was not the case when Simeon spoke about Jesus.  “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed … so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” (Luke 2:34-35) 
     Simeon warned that Jesus would not often be well-received.  For, he must cause your fall before he brings about your rising.  If Jesus is to be your Savior, then he must show you that you need to be saved.  He drives you to fear of judgment and in despair of your own goodness, showing you that the only status with which God is pleased is holy and obedient.  This, then, is your falling.  You cannot stand before God and boast of how good, how kind, how generous, or how nice you are or try to be.  You cannot fix yourself.  You must stop pretending that you can.  Your must repent.
     Do not exalt yourself.  You can’t.  But Jesus does!  Jesus raises you up and is your hope and consolation.  His perfect obedience answers for you.  His bitter sufferings and death atone for you.  Jesus’ innocent blood covers over your sins.  Jesus’ resurrection declares that death is dead and that the grave is powerless.  And by your baptism, you are united to Jesus in all of this.  Just as Jesus is risen and has ascended into heaven, so also you shall rise and ascend to dwell with him.  You have been raised to the status of saint, and you shall be raised from the dead to dwell with all the saints in God’s glory forever.
     The Lord had come to his temple.  He filled Simeon with peace and joy.  He answered Anna’s prayers and filled her with thankfulness.  He still comes to you in his word and sacrament with his saving gifts.  He is the Light which shines God’s grace upon the world.  He is the Glory of God’s people.  He is the redeemer of God’s Church.  He is your salvation.  And so, when your last day comes, whenever it is, you can depart in peace.  For the Lord is in his temple, and he makes all things right with you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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