“The Purification of Mary, the Presentation of Our Lord, and the Consolation of God’s People” (Luke 2:22-40)

The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord
Sunday, February 2, 2020

“The Purification of Mary, the Presentation of Our Lord, and the Consolation of God’s People” (Luke 2:22-40)

For most Americans, today is being called either “Groundhog Day” or “Super Bowl Sunday.” But for us in the church, we observe this day, February 2, for two events that are much more significant, namely, “The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord.” And that in turn will lead us to celebrate something that results from this day, and that is, the consolation of God’s people. Thus our theme this morning: “The Purification of Mary, the Presentation of Our Lord, and the Consolation of God’s People.”

Our text begins: “And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, ‘Every male who first opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord’) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.’”

What is this passage talking about? Well, it goes back to the Levitical law about how long a woman had to wait after giving birth, before she was ceremonially clean again to go the temple. And that period of time was forty days. And this is why we celebrate the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord on February 2, because today is forty days after Christmas.

At the temple, Mary and Joseph offer up a sacrifice for the birth of a firstborn son. By the way, the sacrifice Mary offers is the one allowed for those who cannot afford the more expensive sacrifice of a lamb. Although, actually, if you think about it, Mary does offer up a Lamb that day. More on that in a moment.

The Law of Moses states that for the birth of a firstborn son, that child is to be presented and dedicated to the Lord. This goes back to the time of the Passover, when the angel of death struck down all the firstborn in Egypt but passed over the homes of the Israelites. And because their firstborn were spared, from that time on, all firstborn sons were to be dedicated to the Lord’s service.

Now if ever there was a firstborn son who was dedicated to the Lord’s service, it’s Jesus! His whole life was devoted to carrying out the will of his heavenly Father. That is why he came, born in the flesh, born at Christmas, in order to carry out the mission for which he was sent. Presented at the temple, dedicated to the Lord, forty days after his birth, fulfilling the law–this is a fitting way for this child to begin his mission. For he himself, Jesus Christ, will be the Lamb of God, presented as the perfect sacrifice, to take away the sin of the world.

The Purification of Mary. The Presentation of Our Lord. And now, the consolation of God’s people. Our text continues: “Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.”

Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel. He was waiting for the promised comfort for God’s people, prophesied long ago by men such as Isaiah: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.”

Well, now that comfort and consolation has finally arrived. The wait is over! The Lord had made a special promise to Simeon, “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Now what do those old eyes see? Not death, but the Christ! The consolation of Israel, bundled up in that little baby blanket!

Oh, another “by the way”: Our text does not specifically say that Simeon was an old man. We can probably infer that Simeon was an old man, based on several clues in the text: the fact that he “would not see death before such-and-such,” along with his response, “now you are letting your servant depart in peace”; plus the pairing with Anna, who definitely is said to be “advanced in years.” In any case, Simeon’s time of waiting for the consolation of Israel is over, because now he sees that consolation arrive in the person of the Christ child.

A similar story with Anna. She too, this faithful old saint, gives thanks to God when she sees the little baby. Anna had been waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem, and now she casts her eyes upon the infant Redeemer and rejoices.

The Presentation of Our Lord in the temple ends the long waiting that God’s saints had experienced, as they waited for the fulfillment of the prophecies and promises. Now their aged eyes could look upon–literally look upon–the fulfillment of God’s promises in the flesh. They could see him with their eyes and hold him in their arms and behold him with the eyes of faith.

Now you and I do not see the Savior with our eyes. But like Simeon and Anna, we do behold him with the eyes of faith. For the Holy Spirit has revealed him to us, through the gospel. We know that this Jesus is the consolation and the redemption we have been waiting for. He comforts and consoles us in our sorrows. He redeems and rescues us from our sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Consolation and redemption, in the person of Christ!

The time of waiting is over. The time of consolation and redemption and salvation has arrived. So sing out, old Simeon! “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Simeon has seen the Lord’s Christ and held him in his arms. Now old Simeon is ready to go! Go to be with the Lord. Go to be gathered with his fathers. Now Simeon is ready to depart in peace.

Beholding Christ, seeing the Lord’s salvation with the eyes of faith, the Christian today is ready to depart this life in peace. How about you? Are you ready? By faith, you are ready, no matter how old or how young you are! The good news of salvation in Christ prepares you to be ready to die. And when you are ready to die, then are you really ready to live!

None of us knows how many years the Lord will give us here in this life. If we are old, the Lord may have some reason to keep us around for a while longer. And if we are young, there are no guarantees. So whatever our age, we need to be ready. Like Simeon, like Anna. Ready to depart this life in peace, having seen the promises of God arrive in the person of Christ.

And really, this is just the beginning. Death is not the end for us Christians. Christ has conquered death, by his redeeming death. Christ has opened eternal life to us, by his victorious resurrection. This is how the consolation and the redemption and the salvation have been won and secured for us, by Christ’s death and resurrection.

Simeon hints at the death of Christ, which is what it would take to win our salvation, when he says to the boy’s mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” The infant Messiah was received so joyfully that day. But much later, Christ would be opposed most bitterly. And his death on the cross would pierce his mother’s soul with sorrow. But that is how our consolation would be won. For Jesus has redeemed us by his precious holy blood on that cross. And by his resurrection, we have the consolation of knowing that death is not the end for those who trust in him.

Brothers and sisters, here in the Divine Service we are assured of the comfort and the hope we have in Christ. This is why, right after receiving the very body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament, we sing the song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis. Having received forgiveness, life, and salvation, here in Word and Sacrament, then we are ready to depart. We’re ready to depart the service, strengthened in faith and love for the week ahead. We’re even ready to depart this life, if it should come this day. “Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace according to Thy word, for mine eyes have seen Thy salvation.” Yes, our eyes have seen it by faith. Our ears have heard it preached to us. And our mouths have tasted that salvation in the Blessed Sacrament. God makes us ready to go, and then he sends us off into our week to live as his people, living and loving and laughing for as many days as he gives us.

Today the world sees this day, February 2, as “Groundhog Day.” If the groundhog emerges and sees his shadow, you can expect six more weeks of winter. Well, it was on this day that Christ emerged, he was presented in the temple, and there already we see the shadow of the cross by which he would win our salvation. Today the world calls this “Super Bowl Sunday.” But what is really super about Sunday is that this is the Lord’s Day, the day Jesus rose from the dead. And because he did, you and I can expect not just six weeks–not even ten thousand years–but an endless eternity to sing God’s praise for the salvation he so freely gives us.

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