Sunday 31 January 2021

 Luke 2, v.21/40

The story in this passage begins just after the shepherds who had visited the baby Jesus left. It is essentially a Jewish story telling of three ancient Jewish ceremonies, and this relates to emphasise the close relationship we have (or should have) with Israel in the Judeo-Christian tradition.

The mother and father are Jews, so the baby is Jewish. We worship the same God, the God Israel, we have a holy book written by Jews, and worship a Jewish Saviour.

Like every Jewish boy, Jesus was circumcised on his eight day after a Jewish tradition carried out over thousands of years. This was a sign of a covenant God made with Abraham that every male child must have that operation or be rejected as a Jew, and in return God promised to care for Israel. If Jesus had not had that ceremony he would not have been accepted.

God commanded that the child would be called Jesus, which means Saviour, and he would be the One to deliver the world from sin and evil. The fact that he went through the ceremony when he was the Son of God should encourage us to make sacrifices and readily perform tasks in the service of God.

Jesus being the first-born son made him sacred to God as every first son was as such. According to Jewish tradition the parents could buy back their son for five shekels, which had to be paid to the priest within 31 days after birth. This ritual was to remind the Jews of the night when the Israelites were in Egypt and all the Egyptian first sons were slain and the Jewish children were spared. It also helps us all to remember God has the right to the first things in our lives.

There followed another ritual which meant Mary and Joseph going to Jerusalem to fulfil a duty, the rite of purification and the offering of a sacrifice. Until this was done Mary could not worship in a Synagogue.

When a woman bore a child, she had to wait a period of 40 days if the child was a boy, and 80 days if a girl before being allowed to join in worship. When she returned, she was obliged to take to the Temple a lamb, or a pair of turtles. If a woman was poor, two pigeons were allowed. The fact that Mary took the poorer offer suggests the home in which Jesus was brought up in was not a luxurious one. This dispels the belief that religion was not for poor people.

On arrival at the Temple they did not try to buy Jesus back, they just said they gave Jesus to God, who had chosen an ordinary Jewish village girl to be the mother of his Son.

For a period of 450 years in Jewish history God did not speak to his people. God had promised the prophet Malachi that he would come into the world by a Messiah, who would bring salvation and judgement, and would be preceded by a messenger who would prepare the way for him. For all those years people of God waited for the promised Messiah who would destroy God’s enemies, and fulfil their dream and belief of a rightful place in the world as supreme, and this would be seen as a king who would be like David to obtain world supremacy.

We move on to meet two older people. The first is a man named Simeon who is described as a devout man, but otherwise we know nothing about him. He didn’t have the same kind of guidance as others had, but he had the Holy Spirit in his heart. All who have Jesus in their hearts will receive the same kind of guidance which will guide them to Jesus Christ.

Simeon was in the Temple when Mary and Joseph took Jesus there, and he took the child in his arms and said the words which have been used in every Anglican Church Evening service since its inception, known as the Nunc Dimmittus.

Simeon believed things had to be left in the hands of God, who had given him assurance that he would not die before he had seen the Messiah, God’s appointed one. There was therefore excitement in Simeon’s voice when he heard that he would actually see this great coming. He knew that whilst others had waited years wondering when how and when, he knew then that the promise had come true.

When he saw Jesus, he knew the time had come and was ready to die in peace and foresaw Jesus to be the light of the world. He prayed from his heart when he saw the little boy. This is faith, the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen by the great names of old like Abraham, Moses, Elijah who all played a part in this story but never lived to see.

The kingdom brought by this baby is not just for Israel, but for the whole world. God was unveiling a plan of salvation for the world without distinction. This will be the true glory of Israel, the nation in and from whom came the Saviour and ruler of the world.
Now Simeon is ready to die and his face changes from gladness to sadness. He tells the parents that Jesus would cause division, as some would accept him but others would reject him, and it has been so and still is.

Whenever Jesus is mentioned people either rise or fall, but many stay the same. Simeone knew a sword would pierce Mary’s heart, for there was a shadow of the Cross, and 33 years later Mary would see her son die on that Cross in a cruel and horrifying death.

In an age of early deaths there came a woman on the scene, a woman of 84, who had been married for only 7 years; her name was Anna, which means grace. She spent much of her time in the Temple worshipping and praying, and when she saw the holy family, at that very moment she gave thanks to God and spoke to all about the child who many were looking forward to be the redemption of Jerusalem.

Luke shows us there is a plan 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, all having a role to play. How wonderful it is when men put aside their macho image and go with their wives to Church.

All Christians should be comforted by the fact God never leaves the world without a witness. Where there is a hard core of believers God will be with them to support them who are faithful, and grace can flourish even when men and women in the Church who have been given the privilege of serving God in His Church become betrayers and traitors to the One they vowed to serve. We witness them instituting, endorsing and accepting false doctrine and trying to force it on those in their charge.

The words of Simeon in which he saw the light of Jesus will one day shine bright on our nation if those who love the Lord work and pray. Christ has spoken and had many darts aimed at him; he has been despised and rejected but has proved to be the Saviour of many who at one time forsook him.

Simeon and Anna were aged saints who kept the faith and run the course. Will we be able to say the same; can we say Lord dismiss our servant in peace for my eyes have seen your salvation? Is there any doubt, scepticism, or are you truly godly in believing and trusting.

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