Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Jesus Presented in the Temple.

Last Wednesday our Men’s Bible Study at church recommenced after several weeks off for the holidays, and we picked up again with Luke. We read the Christmas story, which was interesting in light of the holiday just having passed and everyone sort of picking up the pieces. (My life flies apart between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. It’s a time of high stress, lots of great experiences, but over-all exhausting. I think we need more balance, more Sabbath time during that period, but it is very difficult to find it. For me, it seems to be more difficult each year.) I’m not sure that we achieved any fresh insight as we considered Luke 2: 1 through 20, but we enjoyed the irony of reading how Caesar Augustus (meaning Caesar the Exalted One) and his census pushed Mary and Joseph into Bethlehem for the birth, thus fulfilling one of the Messianic prophecies in the OT.

One of the points often made about the story is that God chose poor people to be the parents of Jesus and chose mere shepherds, rather than high priests and the other ruling elites, to whom to make the angelic announcement. In other words, the point is made that God bypassed the religious structures and went right to the people with this Savior.

The next section of Luke, "Jesus Presented in the Temple", makes me think that we make too much of that point. Because in verses 22 through 39, we see Mary and Joseph carefully observe the rituals that attend the birth of a child, the circumcision on the eighth day thereafter, the "purification" of Mary from her being ritually unclean as a result of childbirth and, finally, when she and her family are appropriately prepared, the "presentation of the first-born" several weeks later at the Temple.

We could argue that no Jewish child is really a complete "person" until the circumcision, because it is only then that he becomes part of the covenant community. In fact, we read that Jesus doesn’t even have a name until that ceremony, because only then is the name of a Jewish child conferred. So we could say that Jesus really does not come into the Jewish world until his parents appropirately prepare him and themselves and then bring their newly named, first born son to the Temple, there to comply with the rule that the first-born male must be presented to God, that is "consecrated." in remembrance of the grace of Passover and in obedience to God's command in respect of first-born males in Exodus 1:2.

So the events in verses 22 constitute a sort of Second Nativity, and it is profoundly Jewish and profoundly respectful of the Law. And, after all, the Gospel is for the Jew first, then to the Gentile. (Rom. 1:16)

There is great irony in Jesus being presented at the Temple, because the event goes largely unnoticed, except for a couple of old people to whom no one apparently pays a great deal of attention, except the parents themselves. This is where I think one of the lessons lies.

Here we have the Temple, with all its bureaucracy and ritual, one of the avowed purposes of which is to await the Messiah. And then, with two exceptions, they completely miss him. It makes me wonder what I am missing. What is going on in God’s economy, right in front of my eyes, that I am completely missing because I am so busy doing life? What is First Presbyterian of Miami Springs missing that is going on in our town, because its people are busy doing church? What is the Western Church itself missing?

Simeon and Anna give us a clue about how not to miss what is there for us to see. Each had committed himself or herself to a life in which they waited upon God. When God's good time came, he sent them spiritual gifts so that they could see who this child before them really was. The passage expressly states that the Holy Spirit caused Simeon to recognize Jesus. And it describes Anna as a prophetess. Here is man waiting patiently, and God finally revealing and equipping. May all of us be able so to wait and, when the time comes, be so blessed by God.

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