first reading: Malachi 3:1-4 second reading: Hebrews 2:14-18 gospel reading: Luke 2:22-40
*local context: in the congregation I serve, this Sunday was also designated as “Scout Sunday” – a day to recognize the service of the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America.
The feast of the Presentation is one of the oldest feasts we have in the Christian Church. There are sermons on this feast from as far back as the 4th century.
The Presentation really tells three stories of this young Jewish family.
Number one, they were presenting their son at the Temple, and offering the prescribed sacrifice for his redemption.
Number two, Mary was going to the Temple to complete the purification rites necessary for a woman after giving birth.
We find the guidelines for this in the book of Leviticus, chapter 12. When a woman gave birth to a son, she was unclean for 40 days, and at the end of that 40 days she was to offer a sacrifice to the Lord, and that sacrifice was a lamb.
This leads to the third thing we learn about this Jewish family. They were poor.
St. Luke tells us that Mary and Joseph did NOT offer the lamb that Leviticus requires. Instead they offer the alternative for those who could not AFFORD a lamb.
In this event of the Presentation we also meet two wonderful characters, Simeon and Anna.
Simeon is described as righteous and devout, and guided by the Spirit. It is from Simeon that we get the beautiful canticle, the “Nunc Dimitis” which is Latin for its first words, “Now you are dismissing…”
Anna is amazingly described as a PROPHET. A prophet who never left the Temple. St. Luke tells us that when she saw the baby Jesus she “began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking…”
There is SO much here to ponder: the Holy Family’s life situation, the stories of Simeon and Anna, the words of the Nunc Dimitis, and the haunting words Simeon spoke to Mary – all rich with meaning. Too much for one sermon.
What I want to look at today is the Holy Family – Mary, Joseph and Jesus. What do we learn ABOUT them today, and what can we learn FROM them?
I’ve already shared that we learn they were a devout Jewish family. It was important to them to make the journey to the Temple in Jerusalem to perform the rites prescribed in the Bible.
They went out of their way, and dipped deep in their pockets to do what was required of them by Jewish law to present their son, and finish Mary’s ritual purification.
How “out of OUR way” do we go to demonstrate OUR faith? How far do we stretch ourselves, whether it be with our time and energy, or our finances, to serve God’s Church?
Joseph and Mary’s poverty also speaks VOLUMES to us.
It was certainly the prevailing notion in Jesus’ time that status and wealth were signs of God’s blessing, and that poverty and sickness were signs of God’s displeasure, or even of sin – and it is that way in our day and age as well.
There are many preachers that tell us if we just do “A, B, C, and D” that God will bless us with prosperity and success.
You know what that is? That’s a lie. I’m sure most of them don’t mean it in a devious or malicious way – but it’s still a lie.
Because the WHOLE life, death and resurrection of Jesus tells us otherwise.
God came to earth as a baby with no place to stay except a barn, with no crib for his bed, and as an infant his parents couldn’t afford the regular Temple sacrifice.
He grew up to be hated by the religious authorities, and to be put to death by them as well as the Roman government. And his death was shameful and painful.
There is no worldly success or wealth or power in his life at all. If anything Jesus came to turn the tables on the definition of power and success.
The first shall be last, those who are first among you must be your servant, when you do for the least of these you do to me. Wonderful quotes from our Lord that tell us that worldly definitions don’t impress him or make us more lovable or worthy.
This is truly good news to those of us who struggle in the eyes of the world.
To the poor, the unemployed, to those struggling with illness or personal issues that weigh us down, the temptation is to believe that we’re doing something wrong, or that we’re being punished.
The truth is that life isn’t fair, and that is a crushing thought. But the next truth is that GOD isn’t fair either, and that is our saving grace.
God loves the rich, the poor, the saint, the sinner, the healthy, the sick, the young, the old – there is NO ONE beyond God’s reach, NO ONE God’s love can’t save.
It is a fundamental re-defining of success and power.
Today we are also recognizing Scout Sunday, and our members involved in scouting are wonderful examples of this re-definition.
The Scouts promise to serve God first, and part of that service is helping others. Part of their learning to be community leaders is SERVING the community.
Success is not just measured in power or wealth or coming in first, it’s what we can do to make our communities, and our world, a better place to BE.
To become an Eagle Scout for boys or earn the Gold Award for girls they must provide a substantial service to the community. To not build something that puffs YOU up, but to create something that serves others.
THAT is the good news The Presentation gives us – that God accepts and loves us, all of us, all our inward shortcomings, all our outward failures, and calls us to a life that sees serving our neighbors as good, and noble and honorable – and that through serving those neighbors we are also serving God.
As Jesus said, as you serve the least of these, you are serving me.