Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
The Jerusalem Temple at the time of our Lord’s birth was a busy place. There were ongoing, daily animal sacrifices – and that meant many kinds of animals being brought in, a huge army of priests to perform the rituals, to play music, to sing in the choir, to keep the lamps lit at night. There were the infamous moneychangers at the entrances. The place was a beehive of near twenty-four hour per day activity. In walks a humble, poor couple from Nazareth, via Bethlehem, with another Jewish baby boy. They were just three faces in the crowd that day, no doubt.
The time had come for the mother and the Boy to be purified in the sight of God through two ritual sacrifices. If your newborn baby was a boy, purification was to be completed after thirty-three days. If a girl was born, after sixty-six days. The sacrifice was to be a year-old lamb for the whole burnt offering, which means it was totally consumed as a total offering to God alone. God needed to be given thanks and glory for the blessing of a newborn child. A pigeon or turtledove was sacrificed for the sin offering, meaning that its blood was shed as atonement for sin.
The pain and flow of blood that happens in childbirth is a sign of the fall into sin. Remember what God says will be part of the punishment for the woman at the Fall in the Garden of Eden: “I shall surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children…” (Genesis 3.16) Childbirth is not a smooth, easy, clean process. There is pain, and there is shedding of blood at childbirth. All of you parents, nurses, doctors out there who have witnessed a baby’s birth know that this is true, whether through a natural birth or via c-section birth. Sometimes, children sadly do not live through childbirth, and that’s another kind of pain.
To ritually purify the mother in the Old Testament worship of God from this unholy pain and shedding of blood, to make her and the child holy in His sight, God demanded the shedding of animal blood, atonement for the sinful condition of mankind. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins.
Mary and Joseph were not held to buying an expensive lamb. God said in Leviticus (12) when He instituted this ritual, that if the mother and father were poor, two pigeons or two turtledoves could be substituted instead of the lamb and one bird. Luke indicates that Mary and Joseph indeed gave the two birds. It was what they could afford.
The Lord Himself was carried into His holy Temple by His mother and stepfather as a baby. Not the very kingly entrance David sings of in the Psalms. The Lord is in His holy Temple (Psalm 11.4a) – the call ought to go out as it does in the 24th Psalm: “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, He is the King of glory!” (Psalm 24.7-10) One can just hear the joyous and exultant strains of Handel’s Messiah blasting away along with this Psalm text.
But, there was no fanfare audible or visible. No majesty and triumph for the King of Kings. All that the mortal eye beholds is a baby being carried by His mother. And a stepfather scrambling for enough coins to buy the two turtledoves. Do you think Joseph was maybe short changed by the moneychangers? Their time would come – Jesus would come back to take care of that thievery in His house.
But if all the mortal eye beholds is a mere baby as we behold it, before the eye of faith unfolds the blood of Jesus’ merit. Now, the eternal Son of the Father, full of grace and truth, yet contained in this tiny month old baby, was coming into the Temple to fulfill and empty the Law of its power to condemn us.
I said earlier that Mary and Joseph gave no lamb as their offering for Mary’s purification, but two turtledoves instead. That’s actually not exactly right. Mary had a little Lamb, his flesh was free of sin, and everywhere that Mary went, the Lamb was sure to go, for He came our souls to win. Mary’s little Lamb was to be the one and final sacrificial offering for our sins. God the Father was providing in the little Lamb the price for our purification. Mary was certainly ritually purified by her offering of the two turtledoves, as God promised she would be. But even more, Mary, Joseph, and all of us have been eternally purified by the shedding of the blood of the Lamb that God offered in His own Temple that one day long ago in Jerusalem.
Everywhere that Mary went, the Lamb was sure to go. Mary went where you and I still go. We need this blessed exchange, this whole offering on our behalf. All of us, Mary, Adam, Eve, everyone, are sinful, in need of a redeeming sacrifice for our sins. And so our Lord Jesus indeed went there too. He took on our shame, our sufferings, our punishment – everything we deserve from every dark corner in which we commit our great sins and vices.
The eye of faith sees not just a baby. It sees the very Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It sees that the very Lord of heaven and earth is in His very own Temple. It sees the mysterious union of the divine and human natures in this tiny Baby. It sees these things, because the eye of faith has been given faith to see by the power of the Holy Spirit.
St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2 that, “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” (1 Cor 2.12) The Spirit helps us to see in the baby Jesus this little lamb being freely given by God for our sins. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the presence of Jesus Christ and His revealed Word to us. The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon, who was a devout and righteous man because he looked in faith forward to His redemption in Christ. He understood by the Spirit given eye of faith what He was seeing and touching.
Simeon actually “received the Baby in his arms.” Faith before God just receives, is only passive. God brings His Holy Child into the Temple and gives Him and His Holy Spirit as a gift – for us. Jesus would later tell His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Mark 10.15) One wonders if Jesus had old Simeon in mind. Simeon did by God’s grace receive the Kingdom of God in this Holy Child, with a child-like faith. This tiny Baby was at the same time very God of very God, King of Kings, and the Kingdom of God, all rolled into one receiving blanket.
All we can do by faith is to receive the gifts of God, and then respond by blessing God, praising Him, giving Him thanks for the gift. Like Simeon. Like Mary. Like Elizabeth. Like so many saints who have clung in faith to the hope that God has given them in the promise of salvation. We sing of true and lasting peace, of firm confidence to know that death from this world is not the end, only the beginning of true and everlasting life. Simeon’s eyes and our eyes – the eyes of faith – see in this Lamb eternal salvation, light, and deliverance from sin, death, and the dark and powerful corners in which the devil traps us all.
The Lord was in His holy Temple in that little Lamb. The blessed exchange of the Lamb to be offered in your place for your sins was underway. There were just three lowly adults with God’s Lamb, and two turtledoves, alone in the middle of a mess of busy people. But make no mistake. The Lord was in His holy Temple. The angel hosts, unseen to every human eye, bowed silently in holy awe, while the seraphim around the throne sang “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of Sabaoth.” And all the Old Testament saints sang, “O Christ, thou Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, grant us Thy peace.” The Holy Spirit moved Simeon to give earthly voice to a new heavenly hymn of the liturgy. What a glorious day it truly was. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word. For mine eyes hath seen Thy salvation…”
The Lord is in His holy Temple now. The little Lamb has been slain for you, and has risen from the dead, and sits on His throne. He sits not just at the right hand of God in heaven, but He comes to earth to sit on the throne of your heart and soul, to make your bodies His Holy Temple, here, in His Holy Body, the Church. What a glorious day it truly is, these weekly Presentation days, these weekly Easter Sundays. All that the mortal eye beholds is water as we pour it. All that the mortal eye beholds is a mere word from frail, sinful men as they speak it. All that the mortal eye beholds is bread and wine as it is given and poured out onto your lips. But the eye of faith beholds the blood of Jesus’ merit given in Baptism’s saving water, in Absolution’s comforting word, in the forgiving food of Jesus’ Body and Blood under bread and wine. The eye of faith beholds what is revealed to you by the Holy Spirit – that you see and hold in your arms what Simeon saw and held that day – Your peace, Your salvation, Your Savior, Your King of Kings, Your Lord of Lords, Your eternal good.
Think this day upon our brothers and sisters, wives and husbands, mothers and fathers, who have departed this life in the Christian faith, granted eternal life in heaven. They know and see with their own eyes the peace and salvation that Simeon sang of. No longer is the eye of faith needed to know that the Lord is in His holy Temple. They receive the Lord Jesus in a wonderful heavenly communion with all the saints, as surely as you do at this communion rail. They worship the Lamb there around the heavenly throne, and join you in the unending hymn of the Church’s liturgy that you are privileged to sing at each Divine Service.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for presenting Your Son as atonement for our sins to our eternal good. May we ever be thankful, and sing Your praises, and one day as You grant it, give us to so depart this life in Your peace and joy. Grant this prayer, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of + the Son, and of the Holy Spirit +