Saturday, February 4, 2012

People of the Promise -- KEPT!

Sermon preached for the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary on February 2, 2012.

We find ourselves struggling with several different timetables in the church year.  On the one hand, the Sundays are governed by the lectionary and so on the Sunday after Christmas we heard in the Gospel the account of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple and the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The lectionary does not take much note of the orderly passage of time.  But the festival calendar does.  So now we heard again of that fateful visit to the Temple and of Simeon and Anna but today it falls in the timely way, 40 days after the birth of Christ, just as it did when Mary, Joseph, and Jesus made their way to the Temple.

Don’t ask me to explain the difference.  It just is.  But it does offer us a marvelous opportunity to hear again the setting in which Jesus was presented in fulfillment of the Law, the first born male dedicated to the Lord.  This practice, going back to Hannah and the presentation of Samuel, takes on greater significance because here we see how Jesus takes our place under the Law – just as He did at His circumcision.

In addition, it allows us to focus again on one of those texts that we sing with great regularity in the Divine Service as our post-communion canticle, in Compline as the closing song of the office, and in Vespers or Evening Prayer as one of the evening canticles.

Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace;
Your word has been fulfilled.
My own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of ev'ry people:
a light to reveal You to the nations
and the glory of Your people Israel.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit;
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  Amen.

With these words Simeon was not giving up nor was he expressing his resignation to some forlorn fate or awful destiny.  Simeon was embracing the promise of God and acknowledging that this promise was a game changer.  His life of expectation was fulfilled.  Tomorrow was here for Simeon.  There was no more living in the promise.  The promise of God was now kept.  Whatever future he had, this future was defined and transformed by the promise God had kept and the Son He had raised up to be Simeon’s Savior, Redeemer, and Lord.  His old future was gone and the only one left was the one that Jesus ushered in.

That sad truth is that most of us do not feel that way.  We include Christ into our sense of who we are and where we are headed but we do not make our future contingent upon our Lord and the life that His life has prepared for us.  A while ago the prayer of Jabez was all the rage.  “Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.”  Christians of all stripes embraced it as a prayer based upon God’s promises.  Funny how easy it is to grasp hold on the idea that God wants to enlarge my land, keep me safe from harm, and free from pain and how hard it is to trust in the promise fulfilled in Christ!  We foolishly discard the promise kept to seek after new promises we think better than the one which is Christ incarnate.  For this we need to repent.

Simeon and Anna were there as representatives of Israel’s past.  They were the faithful remnant.  They did not forget the promise.  They held it up in faith.  They came to the Temple every day to remember and to wait for God to deliver on His promise of a Savior and Redeemer.  And when Jesus entered, they were at once shifted from the Israel of the past to the new Israel of the future.  They were no longer among the faithful remnant of the old covenant.  They were, by faith, members and heralds of that new covenant unfolding right there in front of them in the flesh and blood of the Son of God carried by Mary.

We are not people of the promise but people of the promise KEPT.  We live not in hope of an unknown future to be revealed but as people who know the revelation made known in Jesus Christ.  To be sure, we still see through the glass darkly but the future that is to come is already ours by baptism and faith.  We have great expectations because we are witnesses of the great revelation of God in Christ.  We have heard the living voice of Jesus call to us in the Gospel and forgive our sins in the absolution.  We have felt the touch of Jesus in the cleansing water that has made us clean, clothed us in righteousness and imparted to us the life that death cannot steal.  We have tasted passover’s fulfillment in the bread that is Christ’s body and the wine that is His blood.  We live not for what we wait to be made known; we live because of what already has been revealed and made known in Christ.  Christ is our future.  Christ is our present.  This is what the Nunc Dimittis sings.  All we are and all we hope to be are now revealed to us in Christ.  We shall follow where He leads, we shall walk in His light, we have died with Him to rise with Him for all eternity.

For this reason, we join in Simeon’s words.  The Word is fulfilled.  Our very eyes have seen Jesus.  His light has shone on us.  His glory has been made known to us.  Our future lies in Him.  We can go in peace.  From this house; from this life; to our heavenly future. Amen

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