Saturday 27 January 2018

Luke 2 v 21-40
In this passage we see three ancient Jewish ceremonies. The story begins after the shepherds left having gone to visit the baby (Jesus).

The story is essentially a Jewish one with a Jewish father and mother; a Jewish baby, worshipping the |God Israel, taken from a bible written by Jews. This should remind those rather indiscreet and foolish clergymen who pen criticisms of Israel that we are part of a great and long Judeo-Christian heritage which has served the world so well. We do not need anti-Semitism in the Church, there is enough of that in the political scene.

Like every Jewish boy Jesus was circumcised on the eighth day after birth, something that had been done for 2000 years and was very significant to a Jew as part of their history, which had been passed down the male line. This act was part of a promise made to Abraham by God,

God made the promise that Abraham would be the father of many descendants, and through him all nations would be blessed, and this would be accompanied by the sign, and Jesus was in that male line. If Jesus had not gone through this ceremony He could not have been accepted in the line of David.

The name of Jesus was given by special command of God meaning Saviour, so we know Him as one to deliver us from sin and evil. He had submitted to this ancient ceremony although it was not strictly necessary as the Son of God, which should encourage us to make sacrifices and perform tasks readily in the service of God.

Jesus being the first born son, made Him sacred to God, and every first born who was a boy was treated as such. According to Jewish custom the parents could buy back their son for the price of five shekels, which had to be paid to the priests within 31 days after birth. This ritual was to remind the Jews that one night when the Israelites were in Egypt and all the little boys were slain, the Jewish children were spared. God ahs the right co the first things in our life

That ceremony was followed by another which meant Mary and Joseph had to set out with the child to go to Jerusalem to fulfil another Jewish duty, the rites of purification and offering of a sacrifice; until this was done Mary could not be allowed in a Synagogue to worship..

When a woman bore a son she had to wait 40 days before she could rejoin in worship, and 80 days if her child was a girl. When she returned a woman was obliged to take to the Temple a lamb, or a pair of turtles or two pigeons as an offering, but if she was poor and could not afford such just two pigeons. The fact that Mary took the poorer offering indicates the home in which Jesus was brought up in was not a luxurious one.

Poverty was prominent in our Lord’s life. He was nursed and cared for by a poor mother and spent the first thirty years under a poor father and would thereby live the way of the poor. The fact that this is so should dispel any notion that religion is not for poor people.

For a period of 450 years in Jewish history God did not speak to his people. God had promised his prophet Malachi that he would come personally into the world by a Messiah who would bring about salvation and judgement, preceded by a messenger who would prepare the way for him. For all that time the people of God had been waiting for this promised Messiah who would bring judgement and salvation into the world, who would destroy God's enemies and who saw their rightful place in the world as supreme and would one day be realised by another king like David who would attain world supremacy

Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the Synagogue and in his case did not but Him back. They said ‘Lord this is your boy’, which meant from the age of twelve the Lord would have Him completely. God left Him in the care of an ordinary Jewish village girl and a poor carpenter as parents for His Son. This meant further that when he was twelve the mother and father would take him and hand him over to the priest.

We move on now to meet two older people. The first a man named Simeon who is described as a devout man, but otherwise we know nothing about him. We are only told that the Holy Spirit led him to the Temple when the child Jesus was taken there. Simeon took the child in his arms and said the words which have been said in every Church of England since its inception, the words of the Nunc Dimmittus

Simeon believed things had to be left in God’s hands and God had through the Holy Spirit given him assurance that before he died he would see God’s own appointed one. There was therefore excitement in Simeon's soul when he heard that promise that he would actually witness this great coming. He was the only Jew who knew when the Messiah would come. Others had been anxiously awaiting for hundreds of years and were guessing just as some are doing now, but one day as he was worshipping the Holy Spirit spoke to him. After all those years of silence, at last the promise was going to come true.When he saw Jesus, he knew that time had come, and he was ready to depart in peace.

But, Simeon finishes with some disturbing words. This marvellous salvation through Jesus had a dark side. There will be many who will not accept and follow Jesus; there will be a falling as well as a rising of many in Israel. Jesus will be a sign of division and will be spoken against. He will cause division and conflict; decisions will have to be made for him or against him. And for Mary a sword would pierce her heart he warned, referring to the crucifixion.

Anna too had been waiting. She was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very -old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. When she saw the holy family, at that very moment she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke shows us there is a place for everyone in God’s Kingdom. Older people able to wait on the Lord; a young woman having a baby to dedicate to God; a husband going to Church with his wife (Not a very common sight now); every person having a role to play.

So in this story we have read that Jesus was born into this world as a baby, offered to God as a child, grew into manhood and faced all the emotions of human life and able to empathise with us in every aspect of life. And tells us He was the true Messiah who would one day give His life in a cruel death that we may be made righteous in God’s sight.

True Christians should be comforted by the fact that God never leaves the world without a witness. We have to remain hopeful and faithful that grace can flourish even when men and women who have been given the extreme privilege of serving God in His Church are in themselves traitors to the One they vowed to serve by instituting, endorsing and accepting false doctrine and forcing it on those in their charge.

The words of Simeon in which he saw the light of Jesus will one day shine bright if those who love the Lord work and pray.
Christ has been spoken against and had many darts cast at Him. He has been despised and rejected, but has proved to be the Saviour of many who at one time did reject Him.

Simeon and Anna were aged saints. They had kept the faith. They had run the course. They were pious and prayerful, devout and faithful. How much does that correspond with our experience? Can we say, 'Lord, dismiss your servant in peace, for my eyes have seen your salvation'?

What sort of response best describes our attitude to the birth of Jesus? After all, we've heard it many times before. Are we sceptical? Unbelieving? Dismissive? Or, like the godly remnant, faithful, believing and trusting?

The gospel He came to bring has saved many souls and lightened many hearts and bring to light the characters of many people.

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