The Call to Worship
Old Testament Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm Psalm 24:7-10
Epistle Hebrews 2:14-18
Gospel Luke 2:22-40
May we present ourselves to the Lord with pure and clean hearts.
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Where do we find God? Are we really looking for God? Will we recognize God when we encounter God? How will we respond?
Today we remember The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple. Mary and Joseph bring the infant Jesus to the Temple, partly for the ritual purification of Mary according to the law ... also to dedicate their first born son to God. After all we have heard from Advent up until now, it is hard to imagine Jesus needs any more dedication to God. Angels and other divine revelations have proclaimed to Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, shepherds and wise men, that Jesus is the long anticipated Messiah. Yet they bring Jesus, in accordance with the law, to the holy place where God is understood to dwell intimately with humanity.
I imagine Mary and Joseph anticipate this will be similar to an infant baptism today. There is a preparation for the parents and godparents for what is about to happen. A few family and friends tag along for the event. The priest says some words and performs some rituals, then they all go out to lunch to celebrate. Suddenly, Simeon, a righteous and devout person, one filled with the Holy Spirit, who longs for the comfort and consolation and deliverance of his people, sees Jesus. Despite all they have heard and seen, his words amaze the new parents. “My eyes have seen God’s salvation, prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Then, to top it off, a devout prophet Anna, who worships in the Temple day and night with prayer and fasting, begins to praise God and tell all who long for the Messiah about Jesus. I am not as seasoned a priest as many, but I have never had this happen at a baptism, or any of our rituals of worship.
Perhaps scripture is telling us something about looking for and recognizing God. We return to this holy place week after week, longing to encounter the living God. We repeat familiar patterns and rituals so they might be seared into our souls.
While I have not experienced such an Epiphany as Simeon and Anna at the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, I want to share a common encounter of the faithful recognizing God. I occasionally have the honor of sitting at the hospital bed of the dying. Often, people are unresponsive, or in a highly sedated state, or perhaps have oxygen devices covering their mouths. When I begin to read scripture, or a hymn, or the Lord’s Prayer, I have seen those who have marinated in the faith become focused, and repeat the prayers, or mouth the words written on their souls. Those who have practiced seeking and recognizing God are acutely aware of God with them when they are approaching God’s nearer presence.
We hear God’s Word on a repeating three-year cycle, so the living revelation of God’s salvation might speak to us over and over. We recite the creed to affirm our faith, and occasionally prop us up when in doubt. We confess, assured of God’s forgiveness, and in our humanity return the next week to confess again, and try harder. We greet one another in peace, in hopes that peace might break out in all aspects of our lives. We partake of the holy meal that feeds body, mind, and spirit, for solace and for strength. We are sent forth assured of God’s blessing, and go out into the world to continue our worship in our daily lives. We do not stop being Christian when we walk out the door. When we venture out in to the world, this is where our discipleship really starts. We learn to recognize God in worship. We encounter God in the sights and sounds, in the smells and touches and tastes. Hymns and candles and flowers and vestments and stained glass and fancy prayers. We offer our best to God, knowing God is present in the beauty of creation and all that is in it.
This is why we come to church. It is not a destination for saints, but a sacred refueling station for sinners on a journey. As we come together in all aspects of this community ... our fellowship and formation and mission ... we strive to learn and grow and follow and serve.
We seek unity, not uniformity. We learn to disagree without being disagreeable. We share with one another, knowing that each of us is valued by God, especially in our diversity. It is because we choose to kneel at the altar rail beside someone who is so different from ourselves, we begin to experience our oneness in the Body of Christ.
Simeon and Anna spent time at the Temple, where God was understood to dwell, longing to encounter God. It is the same for us. Why get out of bed on a cold rainy morning to come to church? Because there is a chance we might get a glimpse, even a small revelation, and encounter the living God.
Of course, God is not bound by these walls. After the Epiphany in the Temple, Mary and Joseph and Jesus head home to Nazareth. But they do not simply go home the same as they arrived. When we encounter God in our lives, we cannot help but be transformed. We cannot unhear God’s word spoken to our soul. We cannot unsee God’s activity in our lives. We are forever changed. What will be our response?
Simeon and Anna do not keep God’s revelation to themselves. Simeon proclaims the Good News of the Messiah in a song that has been repeatedly prayed for centuries. Anna spontaneously praises God and tells all who will listen that salvation is at hand.
Jesus returns home to grow in the knowledge and love of God, and God’s favor is upon him. We leave this place to go out into the world, striving to grow in the knowledge and love of God, living as disciples, serving God and others, and sharing the Good News of life in Jesus Christ. So come and experience the living God, return week after week, invite and bring along others to taste and see and share, then go out into the world changed, transformed, equipped for the mission ... share the story like Simeon and Anna. We are prophets of God made manifest in the world, and God’s favor is upon us. Amen.