Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Lent to the Lord

Sermon for the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord, preached on Sunday, February 2, 2014.

    There isn't a one of who has not loaned something to someone that never came back.  We make fun of borrowing a kleenex or piece of gum - we know they won't be returned.  This is no joke today.  In the first lesson we heard about Hannah who had waited a very long time and prayed mightily for a child.  Her many prayers were answered with a son, Samuel.  It might seem like she had it all now but this very same son whom the Lord had given, she lent back to Him for His saving purpose.
    Hannah foreshadows Blessed Mary who likewise loans her son to the Lord for His saving purpose.  However, the greater image here is the God who lent His Son to us, the Son who was incarnate of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit, to be our Savior and Redeemer.  This was a loan which not redeemed; our Lord continues and remains to all eternity the Savior of His people and the Redeemer who purchased back the people lost to sin and death.
    Hannah came to the House of the Lord at Shiloh.  Her husband had already come and gone but she waited until her son was weaned.  Then she went, the same woman who had once stood before the Lord begging for this child, now packs him up to lend him to the Lord for as long as he lived.  Her sacrificial offering was not the child whom the Lord had given but the desires of her own heart and the surrender to His will.  She came with the gratitude of faith, trusting the Lord's will.
    It is a story of faith that makes us pale before her.  It is not simply that she gives up her child but she gives up her life and future for the higher purpose of God's good and gracious will.  We live in a world where we are taught never to surrender our wants or desires – not even to God.  Indeed we manipulate our prayer conversations with God to try and convince Him to give us what we want.  But inherent in faith is trust in God's good and gracious will.  This is Hannah's example, the shadow of Mary's greater sacrifice, but both point to Jesus’ sacrifice for us.
    Today is the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Presentation of our Lord.  The Law of God required that a mother stay at home with her child, ceremonially unclean for forty days after birth.  Today we might call it bonding time but the Lord insisted that the child was the mother's sole focus until she would come to the temple to give thanks for the child the Lord gave her and for His own grace preserving her from the perils of childbirth.  This is what Mary did.
    In addition, she brought her son.  In one sense, God was restoring the ark of His presence to His people since the rebuilt temple after its destruction in 587 BC put back everything except the ark of the covenant, which had disappeared.  Jesus is the one who restores God’s presence in the temple.Jesus had been circumcised on the eighth day and was already part of the covenant people of God.  But on this day He was presented to the Lord His Father, the first born, holy to God.  This was not about child sacrifice; the normal practice was for the father of the child to redeem or buy back the child with a payment to the priest of the temple.  But not Samuel.  Anc certainly not Jesus. Jesus is not bought back.  In the ultimate twist, we are bought back.  We are redeemed by Him who gives as payment His own blood for His people captive to sin and death.
    Nehemiah describes how this obligation to bring to the house of the Lord the first born son.  It was normal.  Everyone in Judaism knew this.  So no attention was drawn to Mary and Joseph and Jesus on this day.  It was so routine as to be invisible.  What no one saw that day was that this was no family presenting their child to the Lord but the Lord lending His Son to us to be our Savior – the sacrificial offering is the Son who as a man would suffer and die on the altar of the cross.  He comes to a grateful people and from a thankful mother who pondered all this in her heart of faith, trusting in the Lord when everything before said impossible.
    It might have gone forgotten and remained invisible but for an old man who asked to hold the child.  In the revelation of the Spirit, Simeon sees what is hidden in this infant flesh and breaks out into song, singing the future of this Son who the Father has lent to redeem His people. He will be set for the fall and rising of many.  Simeon turned this ordinary moment into an extraordinary moment of revelation.
    Lord, now You let Your servant go in peace (not go back home but to DIE) according to Your Word for my own eyes have seen Your salvation,, prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.  Jesus is still lent to us as our Savior and we still echo the words of old Simeon.  We have seen our salvation and it is the face of Jesus. His light shines in our darkness and His darkness has not overcome it.  Our only glory is the glory of Him who died that we might live and who lives that we might not die.
    Lest we think this was an anomaly Simeon was not alone.  Anna was there too, an ancient woman who had lived alone her whole life, whose whole life was the Lord.  She waited week after week for the sign of the Lord that He would now redeem Jerusalem.  Mary was purified and Jesus presented as a simple act of keeping the Law only to have this moment disclosed as God fulfilling the ancient promise and coming to save His people.
    In a real sense, every Sunday is like this.  God continues to lend to us His Son.  He lends to us His righteousness because we have none.  He lends to us His life because we are dying.  He lends to us His hope because we live in despair.  And it might all seem rather ordinary except that in the liturgy we sing with Simeon what God has revealed.  We are not giving God anything but He is giving us everything.
    There is little in the Divine Service that is really Lutheran except this addition of the Nunc Dimittis as our post-communion song.  How easy it is for us to be blind to what God does in our midst!  We think of the liturgy as the same old thing and we shrug our shoulders at the Eucharist but Simeon's song confronts us with the miracle and mystery of His presence hidden in bread and wine.  There is nothing ordinary about our Lord who comes to us, the Son of God whom the Father has lent to us to be our Savior and Redeemer.
    So after our communion when our hearts burn and our minds are opened in this breaking of the bread, we break out into Simeon’s song.  We see with his eyes of faith what God is doing in our midst.  What more can we do but sing with Simeon:  "Lord, I am ready to die, for my own eyes have seen my salvation..."   We have met the Lord here, Him whom the Father has lent to us as our Savior and Lord.  We have the taste of eternity is on our tongue, we smell in this bread and cup the scent of heaven in our noses and we hear in our ears the voice of glory.  Just like the anonymous routines of old were broken by Jesus entering the temple so long ago, the Spirit breaks into our ordinary with the extraordinary means of grace.  What more can we say but “Lord, I am ready for death, ready for life, ready for all things in Christ, who has redeemed me a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me with His holy and precious body and blood...” In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is one of the best things I have read in a long time. Thank you Rev. Peters, and thanks be to God.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart