Sermon for The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord
February 2, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Luke 2:22-32
Sermon Theme: “The Song That Stays in Your Head”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Commentary; Emphasis Online Illustrations; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 24, Part 1, Series A; original ideas; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; Halley’s Bible Handbook; Online Wikipedia.)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Most of you are probably like me, — you get a song in your head, and you go around hearing that tune inside your head, and then you start humming it all day long. Just recently, it was “O What a Beautiful Morning,” the Rodgers and Hammerstein song from Oklahoma.
One Saturday night, as I was preparing the worship service for Sunday, even though no one could know, I was really embarrassed because of the song I kept hearing in my head and kept humming! It was Hank Williams’ “There’s a Tear in My Beer Tonight.” At least by Sunday morning, it had left my consciousness.
Many people say that the closing hymn sung during the divine service on Sunday stays with them for the rest of the day.
There is one memorable song that didn’t even start as a song. Its words were actually first spoken by an old man named Simeon as he gazed upon the forty-day-old Jesus in his arms. His words were so important they became a song of the Church, a “Gospel canticle” that we still sing today each Sunday after Holy Communion: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation: which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.” That’s a song that stays with me the rest of the day on a Communion Sunday.
It was revealed to Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Savior. Now he could “depart in peace,” and, of course, it is part of our sermon text from Luke today. You see, our text is actually a snapshot of the First Family of faith in their first public outing since the baby’s birth. They make the journey to the Temple in Jerusalem for both Mary’s ritual of Purification and the Presentation of Jesus to God, both of which were done 40 days after a child’s birth.
There is some confusion about this, as folks often ask, “Is the Presentation of Jesus the same thing as His Circumcision?” The answer is, ‘No, they are two different rituals.’ Based on Genesis 17:10-14 and Leviticus 12, the Circumcision of male babies is done 8 days after birth, as a sign of the Covenant God made with Abraham. Circumcision could be done in the local synagogue rather than the Temple, or it could even be done by the parent. The Presentation, or Presenting the Baby before God, was to be done in the Temple, 40 days after birth, the same time the infant’s mother would seek the Rite of Purification, according to Leviticus 12.
The Presentation has become the Rite of Baptism in churches like ours that baptize infants. In either case, the Jew or the Christian, the child is officially presented before God by the Priest or Pastor. In many Christian churches that do not practice infant baptism, the Presentation is a Presentation without baptism.
According to Leviticus 12, the Presentation of the baby to God and to the congregation required animal Sacrifice, either a year-old lamb, — or a pigeon or dove, if the family were too poor to afford to offer a lamb. It is touching that the First Family of Faith, no doubt out of necessity, offered the lowliest sacrifice possible to God.
Simeon can “depart from this life in peace,” because he has seen with his own eyes the fulfillment of God’s promise of a Savior. Only the positive aspects of the fulfillment of God’s plan are in his Temple proclamation, and thus in that comforting song. But, in the verses that follow our sermon text, Simeon takes Mary and Joseph aside and tells them a further prophecy which is disturbing. Many times we receive good news and tough news at the same time.
An Indian chief was disturbed about how lazy and disobedient his braves had been during the hunting season, so he called all the tribe together and announced, “I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is that, because you have been lazy and disobedient and done little hunting this season, all we have to eat all winter long is clay from the riverbank. The good news is that there is an ample amount of clay to keep us going until next year.”
Because of the bad news of our sin, Simeon told Mary that although their Son was the Messiah, and thus a blessing to all mankind, He would bring deep sorrow to His parents’ hearts.
Here’s the verse that follows our sermon text: “Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother, ‘This child is destined to cause the fall and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul, too.’” You can imagine the joy and anguish Mary felt in hearing this.
There are a number of characters in the Bible, some important and some not so important, who put in a cameo appearance, that is, they appear once only and for a brief time. It’s kind of like the cameo appearances of Alfred Hitchcock, mystery writer and film director, who would always include himself for a brief moment in every movie he made. His cameo appearances would last for about two seconds, but they became his trademark that we, who liked his movies, looked for.
Just to give you a couple examples from the Bible, — there’s Anna the Prophetess who makes a cameo appearance shortly after Simeon does. And then there is Matthias, who was chosen to take Judas’ place, so that there would still be twelve disciples. According to a very brief cameo appearance, we learn that he and Joseph Barsabas were nominated to replace the betrayer, Judas, and Matthias was chosen. And there are many other examples.
Because of his very important role as the twelfth disciple, you would think we would get more than just a cameo appearance out of Matthias. Yet, here is Simeon, a hitherto unknown prophet, who speaks words that have become some of the most cherished words of our liturgies, known to the church as the Nunc Dimittis and sung in our churches for hundreds of years. Simeon’s blessing, which contains words of assurance and peace in the light of God’s salvation, heralds the most important message on earth.
This song to depart in peace could ring forth only when the Law had been fulfilled. This song to depart in peace rings out to those who need consolation and redemption, which is all of us. We need to know that the Holy Sacrament we have just shared with our brothers and sisters at the Lord’s table allows us to depart in peace.
This song to depart in peace rings out to all nations, Jews and Gentiles alike. This song to depart in peace is for all people from all nations.
Simeon spoke and all Christendom picked up on his words. His is a song to remember, for despite our struggles in life, by our salvation in Christ we do depart in peace. You and I struggle to earn money, to take care of our family, to put food on the table, to balance our family budget, to cope with the latest report from the doctor, to take care of our elderly parents, to wonder if we have saved enough money to take us through our final years, to cope with the loss of loved ones, to try to understand those who perplex us, and to have time to just enjoy our blessings.
And through this struggle come the words of Simeon, and they come right after we have received the precious Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and the restoration of our Covenant with Him: “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy Salvation, which Thou hast prepared before the face of all people, a Light to lighten the Gentiles and the Glory of Thy people Israel.” Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.