The Presentation of Our Lord

The following sermon was preached by Dr James Keller in the CLTS chapel on 2 February 2012 in observance of the Presentation of Our Lord and the Purification of Mary.
 

“A Glimpse of Glory” – Luke 2:22-40

It seems that every once a while, in the middle of our often dull, dreary lives, we get a quick shot of glory. Our favourite baseball team signs a coveted free agent, and immediately go from also-rans to World Series contenders. A couple in England enjoy a fairy tale wedding watched by millions around the globe, and it is proclaimed a match for the ages. A new Prime Minister or President gets elected, and the country dreams of better days to come.

But here’s what I wonder: when we experience one of these events, impressive as they may be, what have we seen, really? We’ve seen a press conference with an overpaid professional athlete parading in a new uniform. We’ve seen a resplendent ceremony with glitter and glitz, with a fairly ordinary man and woman standing in front of the altar. We’ve seen dozens of carefully scripted campaign stops before adoring crowds, all forming the backdrop for one unbelievable promise after another. The question is, are these  sights and sounds enough to get our hopes and dreams to soar?

Let’s put it in different terms. A new baby is born in a backwater to unremarkable parents. Mom and Dad have come to the temple to present their first-born son to the Lord. Suddenly a leathery old man scoops up the child in his arms. For reasons that are not immediately apparent, the man has a broad grin on his wrinkled face, fairly vibrating with joy. He’s so excited that his old legs have stiffened below his weight, and he has a spring in his step that has not been present for years. And just as the new parents turn on their heels to head home, the old man speaks some remarkable words: “That’s it, that’s enough for now. I’ve seen and held God’s salvation. I can depart in peace.”

As most of you know I’ve said crazy things like that. The Blue Jays win back-to-back World Series and what comes out of my mouth? I can die now. My daughter arrives healthy and happy after 16 years of waiting …. I can die now. My first preaching class all produce sermons that contain nothing overtly heretical and actually proclaim the Gospel plainly …. Whew! I can die now! I really made these claims, or something similar, but of course  I didn’t mean it. Not Simeon—he means it. He witnesses the birth of the Word and promptly announces, “I can die now, in peace.”

An amazing account, right? Because what has Simeon seen, really? It’s just a harmless little baby lying in his arms, powerless, speechless, a newcomer in our veil of tears. Whatever salvation this baby might offer or bring will remain hidden until His Baptism years from now. After Jesus had arrived on the scene, what changed? Herod was still a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Augustus Caesar still ruled from hundreds of miles away. The peace Isaiah and others had promised hadn’t come … yet.

But none of that stops Simeon. He dares to get his hopes up. He stands in grateful wonder, knowing that he holds the future of humankind in his failing arms. He’s seen God’s salvation. He’s touched it. It is enough. And Anna gets in the act as well. Soon she’ll be sharing the same message of joy as Simeon, about an incredible baby she held only for a moment.

How is it that Simeon and Anna—and the whole cast of Christmas characters for that matter—hold on to hope as much as they do? After all, by the time Jesus is grown up and ready to go to work, Simeon and Anna will be long gone. The shepherds that told of the Messiah’s birth, the Magi from the East, perhaps even Joseph, will be only memories. Thirty or more years will pass before the Gospel account continues in earnest, and in the meantime those who saw the baby will have no clue what became of Him. They will have only their memories. And what they remember is just a glimpse, a glimpse, of glory. How on earth did they do that?

Is that not our question, too? How do we hang on to hope when the rest of the world is hopeless? We haven’t seen any more than what Simeon, Anna and the others saw. We have contemporary Herods and Caesars making life miserable, and there is very little peace on earth, let alone good will toward men. The world isn’t any better than it was in the first century. So, what does Jesus’ birth mean for us? We have sacred Scripture, which tells of the promises of God and the hope they bring. We have something like the shepherds experienced, the mysterious glory of the Messiah that lasts to eternity. We have something like the magi, who took home a vision of a different kind of king with a different kind of kingdom. And, we have the gift of children whom the Father has entrusted into our arms to be blessed, and who will, God willing, live on after us.

And it gets better. We don’t merely have a glimpse of glory, a glimpse into God’s future. When we come to the Lord’s table, to receive from His hand the medicine of immortality, what are we doing but seeing, holding and tasting the promised future? Like Simeon, we take that self-same Christ child in our hands. We take Body and Blood to eat and to drink as God’s remedy and God’s assurance of life that never ends. And after laying eyes on the Christ Child, we bread into song, just like Simeon: 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 every people: a light to reveal You to the nations and the glory of Your people Israel. We may not get all the way to the glorious future in our earthly lifetime, but we have not seen it from afar. It is here with us, and that’s enough, so now we can depart in peace.

How do we hang on to hope when the world around us is anything but? The same way Simeon and Anna did, by receiving the Christ Child, singing a song of hope, and commending our future to the Father in faith. Is it enough for you? Is it enough to get your hopes up? In faith, yes, yes, a thousand times yes, it’s enough for now. Amen.

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About ConcordiaStCatharines

a seminary of Lutheran Church-Canada
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