Sermons That Work

The Presentation of Christ…, Candlemas – 2003

February 02, 2003


The Presentation of Christ in the Temple is celebrated today. The characters in Luke’s account are brought together in an event that moves them to a new place. Joseph and Mary are doing merely what is required of them, the ritual presentation of their first-born male child, Jesus, to God, and the sacrifice that accompanies it.

But old Simeon is guided to a meeting with them and, taking Jesus in his arms, is moved to say …my eyes have seen your salvation (Luke 22:30). So now we know what salvation looks like. It takes on the face and body of a human being — Jesus.

Mary and Joseph were probably puzzled by these remarks from old Simeon, but not entirely surprised. After all, angels and others had been saying things like this to them even before Jesus was born. For them it was one more prophecy to ponder.

For us it is affirmation, the culmination that Jesus is our salvation. God has come among us in human form to live as we live, experience life with us in all its wonder and sorrow, and lead us to a new appreciation of what it means to be truly human.

What it means is becoming more and more of a challenge. Does being human mean we have to go to war to settle our differences? Does it mean we cannot solve our problems, only make more of them? Does it mean that fear, hunger, injustice, and cruelty are products of our humanity, regardless of what we do?

Being truly human seems to connect with the message in the lesson from Hebrews that talks about the gift of God among us, the very gift that frees us from the power of evil, the power that brings us to war and injustice. When we say “yes” to Jesus we are saying “no” to these things that enslave us. Then we have to start living like it.

Living like it means several things: First it means a refusal; living as though Jesus is the redemption of our humanity means being ready to say “no” to the things our world tells us we have to put up with; it means refusing to put up with the things that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God; and it means beginning to hold our leaders accountable for decisions that lead to others’ harm.

Our affirmation of Jesus also demands our best efforts. Each of us is given life for a reason outside of ourselves. Like Jesus, our life is to be offered for others in service. Each of us has an opportunity in this worship service to re-offer our lives to God. Each of us has the task of discerning what God asks us to do with that life. Each of us has moments when someone, like Simeon, steps up to us and says, “Here is what I see for you.” Some of the voices we hear are not God’s, but many are. The discernment to know the difference is given us in our Baptism.

Now imagine that you are in the Temple at the moment of the Presentation. Imagine that you are part of the small group standing around Jesus and that you hear the words of Simeon, Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace according to your word: for my eyes have seen your salvation. Imagine those words are being said about you, that you are part of God’s plan for salvation.

The great power of the Gospel is that it infects each of us with its message of hope and clarity about who we are. Everyone who reads it or hears it proclaimed can be part of its redemptive message. People are part — a big part — of God’s plan of salvation. Each of us is gifted for it, and each called to live it.

Here are some things you can do in celebration of this Feast of the Presentation:

1) Vow that you will ask God in prayer every day this week to show you something that God wants you to do with the talents and gifts you have been given. Listen to what others say around you, about you, to you, for clues. Listen to your heart and act on what you hear.

2) Determine to get to know Jesus better. For many he is simply a name, for others he is a friend, a teacher, a guide, their Lord. In Baptism you entered into a unique and special relationship with him. Ask him in this worship service to help you become closer to him.

3) Choose to act in some way against the powers of this world that corrupt and destroy God’s people. You might choose to write your elected officials about your feelings toward the threat of war, or your concerns about how it is that in a nation as rich as ours we cannot fund basic costs of education and public assistance.

4) Take some time to re-read Luke’s account of the Presentation in his Gospel. Let the story reveal to you what it may. Put yourself in the place of the others in the Temple. It is a story that brings pictures to our mind, pictures that are pure, truthful, and whole. Reflecting on this story will make you feel more at peace. It is intended to do that.

Today we are all invited to that moment when others, Mary and Joseph, Simeon and Anna, saw the truth of what God was doing. While we may not have that same experience for ourselves, we celebrate the sharing of theirs. We rejoice that in the midst of our broken world God has come among us, and because of that our future is assured.

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Christopher Sikkema

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