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Presentation Of Our Lord Sermon
Luke 22: 22-40
2, 2020


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Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, ‘Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord’), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.’
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
‘Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.’
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

If someone were to ask you, ‘What is February 2nd,” how would you answer? If you are like the vast majority of Americans, you would start to describe the events in that Pennsylvania town where they read proclamations and honor a fat hairy rodent named Phil who predicts if the last half of winter is going to be as harsh as the first part has been, or if we are going to catch a break with early spring-like conditions. Not exact science, and one Columbus meteorologist this week even said that the groundhog is wrong more times than it is right, but we all know about this longstanding tradition.

If you are a Christian Pastor, or someone who is intensely familiar with all of the observances of the church calendar, you will no doubt reply that February 2nd is the day called, “The Presentation of Our Lord.” You would recall the gospel that we just shared as the basis for this observance and remember the joy that Simeon and Anna showed when they were able to see and hold their savior at the Temple. The last time this happened on a Sunday was six years ago, so it may have slipped your mind about the significance of this 40th day after Christmas.

If you were part of a Roman Catholic congregation over the centuries, you may or may not refer to this day as Candlemas- the basis for a special liturgy and procession in many Roman Catholic Churches around the world this morning. Candles to be used in worship that year – all or a representative sample- are blessed, votive candles are lit in memory or honor of loved ones. We had a time of blessing candles with our young people this morning.
If you lived in England centuries ago, you may even claim all three of these as part of this day. It has been known as the Presentation of Our Lord for many centuries; Candlemas began in Jerusalem in the 4th century and spread quickly both east and west; and there is a traditional English verse of unknown origin which reads, “If Candlemas be fair and bright, come winter, have another fight; If Candlemas bring cloud and rain, go winter, and come not again.” Europeans even developed a tradition with an animal seeing its shadow, but for them it was usually a hedgehog or a badger. It was the descendants of these people who initiated Groundhog’s Day in the US.

You, I am sure, gravitate toward the first explanation of February 2, primarily because that is what we see in the news every year. Candlemas has not been an important part of Lutheran Church liturgy for quite a while, and we only observe The Presentation of our Lord whenever Feb. 2 is on a Sunday. But personally, I find it fascinating that there is a bit of a connection between the three of them in our traditions. And this day is about traditions – traditions regarding liturgy, blessings and even the weather!
I have mentioned before my appreciation of the movie, “Groundhog’s Day” starring Bill Murray. Phil Conner is a rather arrogant Pittsburgh weatherman who is sent to Punxsutawney to cover the proceedings. He quickly finds himself in a bit of a twilight zone-like situation where he lives that same day over and over – no matter what he does to himself or others around him the previous day, he wakes up in the same bed in the same inn, to the sound of Sonny & Cher singing the same song, “I Got You Babe,” while the morning deejays tell the same jokes about how cold it is outside. It is only when he discovers what true love is all about and he becomes devoted to someone other than himself that he breaks the hopeless cycle of a perpetual February 2nd in small town Pennsylvania.

One criticism of liturgical churches like ours is that every Sunday can seem like that “Groundhog’s Day” repetition in our worship services, doing the same thing week after week, season after season and not really going anywhere. It goes back to the rituals that Mary, Joseph and Jesus were coming to the Temple to observe, these types of things can get tedious to some and turn them off.

I imagine that Simeon and Anna probably felt this way. We are told that Simeon was devout, which meant he came to the Temple regularly – if not daily, at least more than most people did! He had also been told that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Imagine going through the same routines at the Temple over and over again, wondering if this would be the day when things would be different! I am sure that Simeon went through a variety of emotions, from excitement and expectation, to weariness to despair, to renewed energies, and to even more despair.

And consider Anna – she is a woman of 84 years old – way past life expectancy of the average person in those days. We read that she NEVER left the Temple, worshiping there day and night with fasting and prayer. Now, that might be an exaggeration, but her constant presence there was certainly enough to make people notice her! Every day the same thing – worship and fast, pray and watch and wait.

The sudden appearance of this 40 day old infant in the midst of the monotonous routine of life brings joy and hope to Simeon and Anna; they are doing a good and right thing in the liturgy of their faith, but God breaks into this good thing and turns it upside-down with the presence of the savior of the world! Simeon and Anna sort of disappear from the story, but they are here to remind us that even in the monotony of everyday routines, God promises to come to us, center us and turn our attention outward toward the world that Jesus came to save.

In our own liturgy, experienced by some as a bit monotonous and repetitive in its familiarity, we are met today with a new thing which is really an old thing – an ancient tradition of candles, prayers and blessing. As modern-day Simeon’s and Anna’s, we can carry with us today the light that reveals God’s glory to all of the nations. Our candles can be a small reminders of the ways that God promises to break into the hopeless, dark corners of our everyday lives and enlighten them with the power of his joyful presence.

We have not seen the sun very much the last couple of weeks as clouds have blanketed our skies nearly every day. But we will go from here knowing that we have encountered the light of the world, Jesus Christ in God’s word, in Holy Communion, and in our fellowship with each other. Our final hymn will be Simeon’ words – the nunc dimittis – set to a familiar tune. As the hymn goes, may God grant that we may follow your gleam, O glorious light, till earthly shadows scatter and faith is turned to sight; till raptured saints shall gather upon that shining shore, where Christ, the blessed daystar, shall light us ever more. May it be so, in the name of Christ our Lord; Amen.