Monday, February 11, 2008

Encounter with hope

A meeting with Hope – Luke 2:22-38

Physical and Spiritual lethargy

This week is my first real week back at work and like most people I seemed to have spent most of my time avoiding the inevitable – there is a new year ahead, the holidays are over and I have work to do.

I know I am not alone in this – I guess it's the post Christmas blues, something that I think we all struggle with to some degree or so.

Maybe it's lethargy, too much Christmas pudding and lying on the beach but somehow it's hard to get motivated.

We need a challenge to get us motivated, to kick start us into life again…

This morning we are exploring a story form the gospels which I think gives us that challenge, which I think should cause us to get back on track – to renew our passion for life – but also renew our passion for following Jesus…

It's the story of Jesus presentation at the temple.


Night prayer, the warm cup of Milo of the Anglican faith: In many ways it's kind of ironic that I say this story should contain a challenge because as many of you will probably know a huge proportion of this story is found in the Anglican Prayer book too, Read Nunc Dimittis PAGE 179.

– Words that someone compared to being the warm cup of Milo of the Anglican faith – Word before bed time to make you sleep comfortably…

I say it's Ironic then because while if you look at the surface of what is being said it all sounds like a nice Bedtime story, it's only when you dig beneath it you realise that it's not to put you to sleep – but it's actually to stir your faith – to give you a lift.

To wake you up…

This is not a nice sweet gooey gah ending to the Christmas story, but rather Simeon is spelling out the cost of salvation.


A Turning Point: This passage offer a turning point – while the Christmas story leads you to a quiet stable a matter of weeks later this story leads you on a journey to the cross.

It also offers a turning point in the sense that it signals a new era coming- Simeon is the last of the prophets in the traditional sense – Male, old, priestly While on the other hand Anna is the first I guess of the new breed, the People of God who Luke writes about in Act 2 – the people of God who were prophesised about in Joel "

Acts 2:17 "In the last days it will be, God Declares,

That I will pour out my Spirit upon all Flesh, and your sons and daughters shall prophesy,"    Once upon a time it was only men who prophesised who the Spirit of God would fall upon – now the those that Luke writes about in Acts – when God pours out his Spirit on all people – not just the blokes.


But there is much more going on here too.

Look into the Traditions:  It's a look into the world of Judaism too. A world that is very different from our own… We have the representation of Jewish traditions and Jesus being recognised by Simeon as being the fulfilment of the old traditions – something new is happening – God is fulfilling his promises – all the Jewish people had hoped for was bundled up in the arms of Simeon – wrapped in this cloth was all we could hope for and because of that all else should fail into insignificance

There is a world of difference between Christianity and Judaism and I think we can so often forget that, and then when we look at texts like this one and we realise how different our world is, in this story there are three Jewish ceremonies that mother and child were involved in–

  1. The Circumcision of Christ,
  2.  The Purification of Mary in verse 24 it talks about offering a sacrifice that's what this is for – it's what poor women would offer for purification.
  3.  But the ceremony that we are more interested in is The Redemption of the Firstborn  -

The basis for the ceremony was that, in the Old Testament, every firstborn son born to a Jewish woman was considered "consecrated for the service" of God.  BUT and this is a big but in the book of Numbers we read:
"The Lord … said to Moses, 'I have taken the Levites from among the Israelites in place of the first male offspring of every Israelite woman.   The Levites are mine, for all the firstborn are mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set apart for myself every firstborn in Israel, whether man or animal. They are to be mine. I am the Lord.' "(Numbers 3:11-13)

What that means is the first born of all Jewish women are excused from service because the Levites will take care of that. 

However, since the Levites performed all the Temple duties instead of the firstborn, the parents of the firstborn non-Levites were required to pay a redemption fee – to literally be bought back,

Which was set at five shekels or 20 silver pieces –?

In today's currency that's about $2 – so it's not a huge amount – but it is a symbolic amount – it's the amount that Joseph was sold into slavery for by his brothers.


So the Child would be handed over to the temple priest, a prayer and blessing said, you would hand over your 5 shekels and the child would be given back to you. -  It was a type of tax if you like – a way of supporting the priesthood.

I can imagine it would be a quick ceremony, nothing flash hand over the baby, receive the blessing hand over the cash… They probably did lots of these ceremonies on a daily basis
So we have Jesus' parents presenting him paying their tax and probably wanting to go home and celebrate, to maybe throw an our  "Baby Jesus has been redeemed party or something..".

We know that from what Simeon says there was a lot more to it than that.

As the Child is placed in Simeon's arms – God stirs him…

An Epiphany: What happens next though is that Simeon recognises this child – not in the way you would "agh that face is so familiar", but in a way that something stirs inside of him.

The Holy Spirit comes alive in Simeon and he recognises that the one who is being redeemed will become the redeemer for all. 

This is not an ordinary child…

It's like suddenly this boring, ritual comes alive, takes on a different meaning – suddenly makes perfect sense.

When I was a theological student my lecturer used to talk about AHA moments – times when you are doing the most routine, the most boring the most mundane things and suddenly you're aware of a greater purpose.  The lights come on – that is what is happening here.

Simeon gets revelation – he get to see beyond the surface. 

This act he has done for countless babies faithfully year after year now has new meaning.

The hope he has had that one day he would see the messiah – and here is the messiah wrapped up in cloth lying in his arms

That has got to be the most amazing feeling.

When Simeon talks about being dismissed he is not just talking about his age – he is also talking about the ceremony he is involved in – it will because of this Baby become obsolete…

The Baby who is being redeemed or bought back – is the fulfilment of the whole thing…

This Baby will buy us all back; this baby will pay the cost to for us all… Simeon included, you included – me included….

But God turned this ceremony its head by proclaiming that this little child would REDEEM ALL HUMANKIND.

That is to say he would be the Saviour of the World.
Jesus goes from REDEEMED to REDEEMER.


But there is a cost…

Simeons words a blessing? 

These words of Simeon that are meant to be a blessing to the proud parents but when you look at them they sound like a strange blessing,

If someone came up to me and said they wanted to bless me and then told me how my house would fall down, my legs fall off and the ground  was coming to sallow me up I would think it pretty odd.

As odd as calling a 3 legged one eared half blind dog – lucky

The words of Simeon are a very strange blessing – in fact they probably felt more like a curse at the time than a blessing

I guess in one way they are also part curse I say that because they don't sound like a traditional sought of blessing you would give to a child – they don't offer comfort and hope to the parents – but it is precisely in this that we are offered comfort it is because of what this child will go through that we are blessed. 

Simeon promises Mary that her soul will be pierced – while he doesn't say how why or when – I think it's pretty obvious that Mary's soul is pierced because of how Jesus was pierced-

There is a scene in the passion movie that haunts me as Jesus is dragged through the streets Mary lies on the pavement wailing uncontrollably – Mary's soul is pierced because the son she cared for was pierced.   It's in this act that we are blessed…


Atonement: From the very beginning the Bible teaches that the price of sin is death.  We have all sinned there is a price to pay.

Jesus has paid that price on our behalf…

This is how we are redeemed – how we are bought back. 

Because Jesus died for us.


Mary is blessed because she has been chosen to be part of God's Big Plan – it may not look like a blessing from where she is standing, it may not have looked like a blessing form the foot of the cross – but from an eternal perspective it is a real blessing for us all.


On one hand this story is the cup of warm Milo for the Anglican faith, but on a deeper level it look towards to the cross, it wakes us from our slumber and reminds us of how much was paid for us,

"Not a couple of dollars, but the life of Jesus."

That's hard to get you head round and sometimes that hard for us to understand, sometimes we don't have the words to explain this.  When word escape you sometimes pictures can say so much...


TYING IT ALL TOGETHER (explaining the painting previous Blogpost): Sometime around 1460 a Giovanni Bellini in his painting "The Presentation at the Temple" captures what I think is the spirit of the text – the blessing and curse of the words.

Firstly it framed almost as if we are looking into a window

  • I look at it and I almost feel like a peeping tom –

Younger Man on the right – the artist drawing you in – give s it that window effect

Notice the hands of Mary and Simeon

Mary – reluctance to hand over her son

Simeon – demanding "hand him over"

Two women – almost oblivious to what is happening

The child Jesus – prepared for burial or wrapped in cloth

And is the child even alive? The face is ruddy but lifeless too…

But for me it's Joseph hiding at the back that really speaks to me– string straight back at you – angry, confused – at what is happening – accusing us – This all because of you….. Do you not understand the price that my child, my little baby will pay for you…

In fact is it Joseph at all, or is it Jesus, Heavenly Father?

My son handed over to die for you….


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