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Posts Tagged "Luke 2:22-40"

Fulfilled

December 29, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this first weekend after Christmas comes from our Gospel text, where Luke records, And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

During these Advent and Christmas seasons, we’ve talked quite a bit about fulfillment, specifically about the fulfillment of prophecies found throughout the Old Testament. By way of example, Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem is the fulfillment of what Micah wrote in his prophecy, But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. See? Fits Jesus’s birth to a “T,” doesn’t it? This, of course, is by no means the only fulfillment found surrounding the birth of our incarnate Lord. In our Gospel text, we see a rather profound fulfillment of God’s Word of promise … though it may not be the one you’re thinking of.

The more obvious fulfillment is found with Simeon, as he sings his Nunc Dimittis. The Holy Spirit had promised that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And as he raises the holy child up in his arms, praising God for allowing His servant to now depart in peace because he has seen God’s salvation, we see the fulfillment of that promise. Simeon has now seen the Lord’s Christ, and now he can rest in peace – whenever the Lord calls him to such rest.

As I said, that’s the more obvious fulfillment, but not the one we’ll focus on today. There’s another, but no, I’m not talking about the prophetess Anna, either. Scant information as there is on Simeon, there’s even less on Anna; we’re only told that she’s the daughter of Phanuel, that she’s from the tribe of Asher, that she’s been a widow most of her life, that she’s at least 84 years old, and that she spends her days and nights in the temple of God, worshipping with fasting and prayer. We’re not even told of any specific word of promise to be fulfilled to her, other than the overarching promise of the Messiah to come, and we do see her clearly perceiving that this promise has been made manifest in the presentation of this child 40 days after His birth.

Again, though, this is still not the fulfillment that we’re focusing on today. No, we will focus on the fulfillment that we see right away at the beginning of our text. Before Anna comes up to the temple and begins to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem, before Simeon takes the infant Jesus up in his arms and blesses the Lord, we see the fulfillment found in the intent and actions of Mary and Joseph. By the time of our text, Jesus is 40 days old, nearly six weeks, and the law required that His parents bring Him to the temple to fulfill the requirements prescribed by YHWH.

What requirements were those? Well first, there is the terse but nonetheless binding clause found in Exodus 13. In the wake of the first Passover and Pharaoh’s release of the Hebrews from bondage, YHWH tells Moses, Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine. In the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, YHWH preserved the firstborn of Israel. Thus, they would essentially be a firstfruit offering to God, and this would be a binding tradition upon all future generations of Israel.

That was what Mary and Joseph were called to do as Jesus’s parents – consecrate Him to YHWH as holy. Only problem was, Mary could not approach the temple because of the requirements of the Law found in Leviticus 12. There, YHWH tells Moses, Speak to the people of Israel, saying, “If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. … And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”

To us, I’m sure this seems like a bit much, but to Israel, to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at this time, it was the given obligation, based upon God’s Word. They had to wait the 40 days for Mary to go to the temple, and since they were poor, they had to give the poor-man’s sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. Once that was done, I’m sure, the plan was to have their now-circumcised firstborn son consecrated to the Lord as a holy firstfruit offering, because He was the one that opened Mary’s virgin womb. They wanted to fulfill what the Law of God required of them and their firstborn son …. Well, that was the plan anyway.

This is where Simeon’s and Anna’s proclamations come into play. They recognize more clearly that this child is the only firstborn son who actually was holy to the Lord. Countless firstborn sons had come before Him from the tribes of Israel, and while many were undoubtedly consecrated to YHWH as holy and set apart, it’s highly dubious that any of them actually lived up to that standard. Every one of them, in spite of their consecrated status, would fail and sin in spectacular fashion – some in more dastardly ways than others. All were consecrated as holy, but none were holy … not so with Jesus. In Him, by virtue of His very nature as both God and man, we actually see the fulfillment of God’s promise that this firstborn son would be holy, set apart for God, for His purposes.

Even as Mary offers up the two turtledoves or pigeons (we don’t know which were used) because she and Joseph were too poor to offer up a lamb as well, Simeon and Anna recognize that they actually bear the Lamb, the Lamb of God, who would make atonement for the entire world. Unbeknownst to His parents, Jesus was set apart to make atonement in a way none of the prescribed sacrifices could: by offering Himself, as a holy, innocent victim, upon the cross of Calvary nearly 33 years after His presentation at the temple. By shedding His own innocent blood upon the ground of Golgotha, He would make atonement not only for Mary, not even for all women after they gave birth, but for the sins of the whole world, throughout time and space. Only God could make such atonement, and only the blood of God could pay the cost.

The presentation of Jesus at the temple is far more than the hopeful and comforting words of a dying man and an aged prophetess. Here, there are foreshadows of the work that this child, only 40 days old was going to do. Holy even before He was consecrated there that day, He would take the place of the sacrifices Mary and Joseph had gone to make. He is making all things new through His atoning sacrifice on the cross, and that includes you and me. Gaze at the Babe of Bethlehem and marvel as Simeon sings and lifts Him high. Sing God’s praises with Anna. What you are seeing in this holy child, who destined to die… is the fulfillment of God’s promise of atonement for sin – yours, and mine. A continued merry Christmastide to you all!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Luke 2:22-40

Great Expectations

December 30, 2018
By Rev. Peter Heckert

 

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel message, especially where Luke records, “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

“Sometimes you go a long way to get a drink of water, and when you get there, it doesn’t taste that good.” That’s one of my dad’s adages which, in particular, has stuck out to me as particularly humorous in both its truth and candor: Sometimes you’ve got preconceived notions of how things are going to go down, and you wait a long time to see things realized, and when the moment finally comes, it’s a letdown. Waiting in great expectations, only to be left with great disappointments. This is something we’ve all experienced at one point or another in our lives, isn’t it? Building up in your mind how great this thing, whatever it is, is going to be as you wait in eager anticipation, only to end up disenchanted as reality hits and you can almost hear the trombone going, “Womp-womp.”

You might expect this to have been what Simeon experienced. This guy spent his days just … waiting. He was waiting, watching, looking because it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. Day in, day out, for years, just waiting and watching, with no other indication of what to expect other than, “When you see Him, you’ll know it.” Frankly, that sounds maddening. Who knows how many times Simeon might have gone into the temple without the fulfillment of this expectation? Who knows how many times he may have thought, “Wait, is that Him?” How many times he sighed at day’s end, saying, “Well, it may not have been today, but I’ve got a good feeling about tomorrow!” Great expectations, indeed!

But then … one day … his expectations were realized. We are told that, on this day, he came into the temple – likely similar to what he had done countless times before, and sometime during that day, a man and a teenaged girl walked into the temple courts. They had come for a very specific purpose: to present their firstborn Child before the Lord, to consecrate Him and to do for Him according to the custom of the Law.

BOOM. That’s it. The switch turned on, and Simeon perceived that, at last, at long last … the time had come. The day was here, when the promises given to him – that he would not see death until he saw the Messiah, the One who was going to redeem the cosmos – were finally being fulfilled. Who can say exactly what Simeon was expecting when this moment finally arrived? Was he anticipating a strong, vibrant man who would be another Samson, ready to plow the pagan Romans six feet under? Was he expecting a wise old prophet like Elijah or Isaiah to walk into the temple and proclaim in a loud voice, “Hazeh Hayom YHWH! This is the Day of the LORD!” Was he expecting this Anointed One to come from one of the great Jewish families, high-born, if not royal? Was he expecting a royal procession announcing that the King had returned? Who knows what he was expecting?

We do know that these sentiments existed amongst the Jews of Judea. They thought the Messiah would blow in like a force of nature, cast out the heathens from among them, free Judea from Roman occupation and oppression, and establish God’s kingdom here on earth in their land. Preconceived notions, certainly great expectations.

So, was there a “womp-womp” moment for Simeon? Did he think to himself as he went up to the couple with their newly born Son, “This is it? You gotta be kidding me! This is what I’ve been waiting for all these years?” If he did, Luke certainly doesn’t record it. Instead, it sounds as if this is a pleasant surprise to the man, as he takes the Babe of Bethlehem up in his arms and sings his song of praise, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”

Great expectations and, while they may not have been exactly how Simeon thought it would be (only God and Simeon himself know this), our text seems to indicate that Simeon’s expectations were met, if not exceeded! Like us, he is rejoicing at the birth of this Child because he knows that this Child … is so much more! He recognizes the infant Jesus as the Meshiach, the Messiah, the One Who would fulfill God’s promise in the wake of the Fall. This Child … would crush the head of the serpent. This little Baby … was going to save the world. He had now seen the One Whom God had promised he would see – the Light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory, the culmination of Israel. Thus, Simeon could now die in peace, joyful, knowing that the promises God had made to him had been fulfilled, but more importantly, that God’s plan of redemption was at hand.

This is all we hear of Simeon. We have no idea how old he was at the time of this interaction – often he’s depicted as being elderly, but honestly, Scripture is mum. We have no idea how long he lived after holding the Babe of Bethlehem and singing his prophetic Nunc Dimittis. There are a lot of unknowns about Simeon, but what we do know is that he recognized in Jesus what many Jews and Romans obviously did not, just a few decades later. They did not see Him as the Messiah, the Meshiach, the Savior of the world; rather, they saw Him as a threat. A liability. A highly dangerous Man who threatened nearly every aspect of their lives, as they cried out, “Crucify Him!”

Who knows if Simeon knew that this is exactly how the Savior was going to save the world: by dying on a cross, outside the city walls as the cursed of God? Who knows if Simeon knew that the Babe of Bethlehem that he held in his arms would atone for his sin and the sin of the whole world by becoming sin, killing it in Himself, in His own gruesome death? Whether or not he knew at the time that this is how Jesus would redeem His creation, Simeon certainly knows it now, as do we. The Child born to the virgin God-bearer would endure torments and pain that we will never fully grasp, and this was, in fact, the reason He was born: to die … for you. The little One we were just adoring in the manger took on human flesh to take your sin and die the horrific death that you deserve … because He loves you. Even when you hated Him, He loved you, and loves you still.

But of course, Jesus didn’t just die for you; He also rose from the dead for you! He defeated death, and has given you the promise that, at His return, we will be like Him and be with Him forever. That is what awaits us! That’s what we, like Simeon, are eagerly anticipating! We have great expectations, too – that, at the return of Christ Jesus, our incarnate, crucified, and resurrected Lord and Savior, sin, death, and the devil will be done away with once, for all, and forevermore! Those are our expectations, and while they may not be realized in our lifetimes, we have the promise of the One Who was, and is, and is to come, that He will fulfill them in His time! Great expectations, yes, but not unwarranted! We know that they will be fulfilled, and when they are, they will far surpass anything we could ever possibly hope for! A continued merry Christmas to you all!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Luke 2:22-40

Waiting for Messiah

December 31, 2017
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation is from our Gospel lesson, specifically the song sung by Simeon upon seeing Jesus and taking Him in his arms, Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word, for my eyes have seen the salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel. Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

Nunc dimittis. That’s the official Latin name for this wonderful departing proclamation from Simeon, meaning “Now release.” This older man had been waiting, for an undisclosed amount of time, for what Luke calls the consolation of Israel. He had been given a promise by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death until he had seen the Christ. Now … finally … as Joseph and Mary have brought this seemingly ordinary Child to the Temple in the normal way that Moses had told them to do with the birth of the firstborn son, Simeon is able to see through the commonness and recognize the Infant Priest for who He is.

Simeon, and a little later, Anna, were able to recognize this Child as the Messiah, God’s holy one, anointed for the purpose of being a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory of … Israel. They knew who He is, the reason He came, and, from the sounds of it, they also had an inkling of what being the Messiah meant in order to be the salvation prepared in the presence of all peoples. Their waiting for the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesies about the coming of the Messiah was finally and at long last at an end.

Unfortunately, not everyone knew properly the reason why this long-awaited Messiah was brought into the world. Where all in Israel were, like Simeon and Anna, awaiting the coming of the Messiah, most others thought the coming of YHWH’s anointed one would herald a new age for Israel … but not in the way that we Christians understand it. Specifically, there was the widely-held belief that the Messiah was going to come as a victorious, conquering king, who would drive out the pagan nations that had for centuries imposed their will upon God’s chosen people. He was going to come, and he was going to oust the Romans and the Herodians, all those foreign oppressors from the Promised Land. He was going to bring YHWH’s kingdom down to earth and rule there until all of Judea’s enemies lay at her feet.

That’s what most Judeans expected from the Messiah; that’s also what the enemies of Judea were told to expect. That’s why Herod put to death boys two-years-old and under in Bethlehem when he was duped by visiting Magi. For that matter, it’s why many years later Pilate would ask Jesus if He was a king as He stood on trial for His life. They all feared the ramifications that would come from the Messiah’s advent, but of course, they were all misguided in their conceptions of what the Messiah’s mission actually was. He wasn’t after earthly thrones and glory, all of which are fleeting. He wasn’t going to overthrow governments and kingdoms with political maneuvering and revolution. The temporal rulers of this world needn’t fear the Messiah’s hijacking of their temporal rule. That is not His aim; instead, the Messiah’s purpose was exactly what YHWH had revealed to Simeon: the salvation prepared for all peoples - the light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of His people Israel.

Simeon knew this truth. Thus, as he held the holy Child in his arms, he proclaimed his recognition of YHWH fulfilling the promise given to him. Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your Word. No longer waiting for the Messiah, Simeon could die in peace … but not without a parting word to His earthly parents. Simeon’s words about Jesus to Jesus do not signify the end of his proclamation; Luke records that he also has some words for His parents, specifically spoken to Mary … but they’re not what you may expect. After a blessing upon both parents, he says to Mary, Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.

A sword will pierce through your own soul also? That doesn’t sound like words that should be spoken to a brand-new mother 40 days after the birth of her firstborn son! These are dark, ominous words—not merely about Mary’s soul being pierced, but the fact that Simeon says that her soul will be pierced also. Before the infancy narrative of Jesus even comes to a close, we receive this somewhat darker prophecy. Mary’s soul was to be pierced, yes, but so was the little bundle of joy resting in Simeon’s arms. That’s what the rulers and powers-that-be didn’t know about the Messiah. That’s what the rest of Judea didn’t expect of the Messiah. He would come to them, not proud and mighty, but humble and lowly. He came, not to be served, but to serve. As we heard at Christmas, whilst we marveled at Jesus’ incarnation, He was born literally to die.

But again, that’s what the Messiah came to do, and Simeon and Anna saw this. They knew, even though this Child would die, by His death, YHWH’s salvation would come to all people - not just to Israel, but to all nations! The fulfillment of YHWH’s promises to all of mankind was found in this Child being dedicated in the way Moses had prescribed.

We have no idea how long after this episode occurred that Simeon - or Anna, for that matter - closed their eyes in death. We do, however, have much in common with these faithful saints of old. Where they waited to behold the Messiah before His salvific work, we wait in eager expectation Jesus’ return. We are waiting for the Messiah - not to lighten the Gentiles and Israel, but to put to death the last enemy, Death itself. Yet, in our waiting, we hold to the promises YHWH, the Triune God, has given to us: that our sins are forgiven in Christ, that He is always with us (especially in the Host and Cup of the Supper), and that eternal life is ours - when our eyes are closed in death, or when Christ returns. May that blessed Day come quickly!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

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