Have you ever watched a master at work? Have you ever seen someone who really knows their trade going about their business? I have my wife in the kitchen – washing up!!!!!
It’s quite something isn’t. I used to love working in the shed with my grandad. He was a master joiner by trade and he knew his stuff. He would allow my brother and I to work in his shed, and the shed was a thing of sheer beauty!!!! Only Grandad knew where everything was, no-one else had a clue!!
And you know, over the years, as Paul and I made various projects with Grandad our own level of expertise grew, all under his expert supervision. Our own confidence grew. I think a lot of it came from watching him, listening to him and seeing how he went about things. I remember one of his famous sayings that he used to come out with all the time ‘Measure twice cut once’. Whenever we were measuring up for something that needed an accurate measure ‘Measure twice, cut once’. Even today, whenever, I am doing anything DIY ‘ish, its measure twice cut once!!!
In our gospel reading that we’ve just heard from Luke’s gospel, the account of Jesus’ presentation at the temple, we see Luke, a real master at work. He is carefully building his case. Carefully putting all the pieces in place and making quite sure, that everyone can see the real picture. That everyone can see that Jesus is truly the Messiah. Luke is a very clever writer, out of the four gospels he gives us the fullest account of Jesus’ life, the gospel is only part 1 of Luke’s account, he wrote the book of acts as a follow up to the gospel. Throughout the gospel his overriding aim is to intricately put the pieces together to make a clear statement that Jesus is the saviour of all, his coming is a world changing event for all people not just the Jews, and his careful selection of stories reflects his own interest in people, especially the sick and helpless, the poor, women and children and it is because of his attention to detail in these stories that it is presumed that Luke was in fact a doctor or physician.
So what’s going on in this passage today? Well first of all two things happen, two separate things, which people often get confused about. Firstly, at 8 days old as is the Jewish custom Jesus was named and circumcised at the same ceremony. Now this is significant, firstly the name Jesus, is the name the Angel told Mary and Joseph that they were to call Jesus, and Jesus means ‘The Lord is salvation’ The lord is salvation – here is salvation in the flesh, a tiny baby, so dependent on his mother, who would grow up to be the salvation of the world – Jesus – the lord is salvation. And what about his Circumcision, a sign of belonging to God, a sign of belonging to the covenant between God and his people. Here Jesus allows himself to be cut, to have pain inflicted on him, a pre-cursor perhaps to the suffering that would come as he was crucified and through his death, do away with the need for circumcision, the sign of the old covenant between God and the Israelites. As Paul writes in Colossians 3:11 ‘there is no gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised’.
Secondly, a completely different event takes place, 40 days after having a baby, a mother was permitted to go to the temple and offer a sacrifice of purification. In those 40 days she was considered ritually unclean and not permitted in the temple. So 40 days later, Mary and Joseph arrive at the temple for purification and to present Jesus as their firstborn. And once again we see the poverty into which Jesus was born, Mary only offered 2 pigeons for sacrifice, this was the least anybody could offer. Again Luke cleverly builds his picture, and what a picture, here comes Mary, considered unclean; she comes into the temple, the place of God to seek cleanliness, so that she might be allowed into the temple, allowed near to God’s presence. Yet in her arms, she is carrying God in the flesh, by Jewish law she is considered unclean, yet she is carrying the only one who is completely clean, whole, and perfect in every way, who will one day, carry the weight of the world’s sin upon his shoulders.
One day, he would be the one who would be considered unclean, and the sacrifice won’t be two pigeons it will be himself. He will be the once for all sacrifice which will do away with all other sacrifices. What a picture, You see Jewish custom would not allow anyone who is ritually unclean into God’s presence, in fact you weren’t even supposed to be touched by anyone who was considered unclean. Yet here Jesus breaks all those traditions, and he does so all through his life, he continually touches the unclean. And doesn’t that give us a real comfort. We can take heart, because no matter what we have done, no matter, how bad we think we are, God understands and he allows us to draw near to him and he offers to make us clean. We don’t need 2 pigeons, he gave himself for us instead. He became our sin, so we might be clean, so that we might draw near to God.
Can you see, how Luke is cleverly stating quite clearly who Jesus is? Any devout Jew reading this at time of writing would see the links. Jesus is the messiah that the Jewish people have been waiting for. However, not quite in the way they had thought. In these two episodes we can see how Jesus came to fulfil the law, no more circumcision no more sacrifice. He came to fulfil the law and to open the way for Jews and gentiles alike.
The picture that Luke paints is of the Messiah, Jesus the king of the world. How easy it would be to paint this picture with glowing regal colours, giving a sense of future glory, power and majesty. But Luke does the opposite, the more he fills in the picture the more we realise that this is a different sort of kingdom, it is not what the Jewish people expected. It is becoming a story about suffering and sacrifice. There’s a famous hymn written by Graham Kendrick which sums it up brilliantly, ‘This is our God the servant king, and it goes on, hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered’.
Now the Jewish people didn’t recognise Jesus? They didn’t see him. I wonder have you been going around looking for something else. Have you been going around trying to find your own salvation elsewhere, whatever it might look? You see the Jewish race don’t recognise Jesus as the messiah. And sadly they’re still waiting for a messiah, they have missed the obvious signs or refuse to accept them. What about you? Have you accepted the truth that the God who flung stars into space, the God who created the universe and created you, gave himself as the only sacrifice worthy of offering wholeness, cleanliness andare only made clean through his blood which is shed for us. Not the blood of pigeons, lambs, goats or whatever else. As one famous old hymn puts it ‘There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin, he only could unlock the gate of heaven and let us in.’ Through him we are accepted, forgiven and made right in Gods eyes. Have you accepted him into your life?
You see, as we read through this passage we see two other people. Simeon and Anna, both elderly people, both Godly people, people waiting for a messiah. They are both people of patient hope.
And as the baby Jesus is brought before Simeon, he recognises him for who he truly is. We read , that the spirit had revealed to him that he would not die without seeing the Christ. So as Jesus is brought before Simeon, we can only assume that a spiritual encounter takes place and the realisation of who Jesus is suddenly hits him, and he comes out with these famous words known as the Nunc Dimitus or the Song of Simeon. ‘Lord now let thou servant depart in peace, for my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people. A light for revelation to the gentiles and for glory of the people Israel’
And Anna, (which means gracious) we read that she is an old widow, and spent her days in the temple, probably worshipping and attending to temple matters. ‘She never left the temple but worshipped night and day’ v.37.
What have we got to learn from both of them? Well I think, firstly we can assume they were both people with a deep faith in God. They spent their time in his presence. And I think we need to take something from this. If we want to see more of God, to see his plans revealed in our lives, to have a sense of his will and direction in our lives, then we need to spend time with him. Spend time in his presence. Simeon we read had an encounter through the spirit. What about you, have you experienced the work of the Holy Spirit in your life? Are you open to what the Holy Spirit might want to do in your life? You know if we want to be a lively, growing church, we need to be a church filled with the Holy Spirit. Alive in Christ. And the only way we do that, is if we ask God to fill us afresh each day. Have you actually prayed that God will fill you with his spirit? I do every single day.
Anna spent time worshipping day and night. You know I think sometimes, we come to church on a Sunday and just assume that’s enough, we’ve done our bit. Out token gesture, and that’s a bit like those bringing sacrificial offerings to the temple, just doing there bit, so they could carry on with life. But Jesus came to do away with that. He came to get rid of the old covenant and its rules and regulations. He came to set us free, free to worship him in spirit and in truth. You see coming to church shouldn’t be a chore or something we can tick on the tick list as done! It should be something we do out of a heart of love. We should want to come to church, to praise God, to worship God with other Christians, to share together and to learn together. But above all to be in his presence. Anna and Simeon gave themselves to the Lord’s service. Now as a church, we are struggling to find people to sign up for the cleaning rota, to sign up for various other forms of ministry. I wonder what might the lord be saying to you today. What is he calling you to do for him in this place?
I long to see St. Anne’s growing, to see it filled with people whose hearts desire is to do God’s will. I often ask people the question, why do we do this? And people say, because we’ve always done this, and I say, yes but why? I want to say the reason we do anything is for God. It’s for his glory. So that his name is glorified in this place and in us. Let’s start being a people open to God, open to his spirit, a people willing to talk about God, a people wanting to spend time in his presence seeking his will. A people of prayer!