Text: Luke 2:22-40
Date: Christmas I + The Sixth Day of Christmas X 12/30/12
Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed is Jesus the first-born Son of Mary, consecrated and set apart to consecrate us and set us apart as the redeemed of the Lord.
Today, on the sixth day of our twelve-day celebration, we continue to hear the initial events of the infancy of the Lord Jesus narrated by St. Luke. After the celebration of His birth, first then, on the eighth day after the birth, circumcision was the sign marking him as an heir to the covenant begun in Abraham (Gen 12). Holy Church celebrates that event on the actual day, eight days after Christmas, which just happens to be January first. On Epiphany, January 6, we celebrate the coming of the Magi from the East to worship the infant King. Forty days after the birth of a first-born son (daughters were excluded), God’s Law commanded the “consecration,” “setting aside” or “dedication” to the Lord as the first fruit of the womb. This ceremony (described in today’s Old Testament reading) was closely identified with the Passover and the Exodus of the children of God out of slavery by God’s own deliverance. Again, Holy Church celebrates this literally 40 days after Christmas, on February second. Yet today we are privileged to hear about the Presentation of the Lord and Purification of Mary as our Christmas rejoicing continues. The important word to describe this ritual is the word “redeem.” God said through Moses, “Every firstborn of man among your sons you shall redeem.” In the temple that day was Simeon who is described as “righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel.” With him is remembered also the prophetess Anna who, St. Luke says, “began to give thanks to God and to speak of (the child) to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” They all point to the same thing, redemption, consecration, consolation, and salvation.
Who are the redeemed of the Lord? They are all the people God has chosen and delivered out of slavery, Israel’s slavery in Egypt, and the slavery of all of us to sin. When Moses prayed for the people who sinned by worshiping a golden calf, he said, “O Lord God, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand” (Deut 9:26). The redeemed of the Lord are those who have been delivered or saved. Redemption, deliverance, and salvation all speak of the same thing.
Jesus, the first-born Son of Mary, was consecrated or “redeemed” on the fortieth day as required by God’s Law. It meant being set apart as belonging to God in a special way. This consecration of the first-born male was a sign recalling the exodus signifying God’s gift of love and deliverance for all His people.
It was Simeon, in his Spirit-inspired canticle, who, when he took up the infant Jesus in his arms, blessed God and said, “my eyes have seen your salvation…a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” The Messiah is the “glory” of Israel, the fulfillment of all of God’s covenant promises, and as such the Messiah is also a light for revelation to the Gentiles, to the whole world as the object of God’s love and care and redemption.
Interesting, isn’t it, how we often sing these same words of Simeon not when holding the infant Jesus but after receiving Him in the very real presence of His same body and blood in the Holy Communion! “Lord, now you are letting us, your servants, depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation.” Where? Right here as proclaimed by the body and blood of Christ, the same body and blood born of Mary, the same body and blood that once hung on the cross for the salvation of the whole world!
Then Simeon said, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed…so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” So it is to this day that, when the claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are heard, some people are “raised” to new life by faith and yet others “fall” because of the hardness of their unbelief. It is just as St. Peter said in his first epistle:
As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:
“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”
So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe,
“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”
“A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.”
They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” (1 Peter 2:4-8)
So the scandal of the cross and the cost of discipleship begin already to foreshadow even when only 40 days have passed. And in a special way Simeon spoke of the shadow of the cross to Mary His mother, saying, “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” A 13th century hymn writer cast this dire prediction in a Good Friday hymn, saying:
At the cross, her station keeping,
Stood the mournful mother weeping,
Close to Jesus to the last.
Through her heart, his sorrow sharing,
All his bitter anguish bearing,
Now at length the sword had passed. (LBW 110)
All of this took place, of course, for you, that you may be called and may actually be the redeemed of the Lord. Our eyes have seen God’s redemption, salvation, consolation because we have seen Jesus—
Jesus, the first-born Son of the Virgin Mary;
Jesus, fulfilling God’s law with the sign of Abraham and the Presentation in the temple on the fortieth day;
Jesus, the Lamb of God, sacrificed to make us the children of God;
Jesus, crucified and risen again;
Jesus, living now and reigning to all eternity;
Jesus, our brother, our Savior, our great high priest and King.
At Christmas and Palm Sunday and Easter and on the last day the redeemed of the Lord sing, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.”