The Presentation of Jesus
Sometimes we lose sight of the fact that Jesus was born as the fulfillment of God’s promises to his people. God had chosen Abraham all those centuries before and his promises to Abraham’s descendants eventually became the promise of the Messiah, the anointed one of God who would embody and carry out the salvation of his people. He was born in Israel and he was born to Israel. As Christians, our roots lie in Israel. Our spiritual ancestors are those faithful Israelites who longed for the coming of the Messiah and who lived expectantly and hopefully.
And so Mary and Joseph are shown to be faithful and obedient Israelites. When Jesus was eight days old they had him circumcised as the law dictated. They named him Jesus in accordance with the instruction given them by the angel. That the name had been given before he was conceived underscores that faith and hope are being fulfilled in the events now being described. The law furthermore instructed that a woman was to submit herself for ritual purification forty days after the birth of a male child and that a firstborn son was to be dedicated to the Lord. Actually, the child was to be redeemed by giving a monetary offering. Is it significant that nothing is said about such redemption? Are we being told that Jesus is to be totally dedicated to God and that his life would be given up in his service? The sacrifice offered by Mary and Joseph was that allowed for poor folks who could not afford a sheep. They are of the poor, of the people of the land.
At the temple they encounter Simeon and Anna. Simeon is the epitome of the faithful Israelite. He loves God, he is looking for God to extend his comfort to Israel, and he is inspired by the Holy Spirit. If you put all of that together, you have a picture of someone who has lived his whole life trusting in the promises of God. He had been truly blessed: the Holy Spirit had communicated to him that he would live to see the Messiah. I’ll bet that he visited the temple with great expectation now that he was in his latter years. The Spirit led him to the infant Jesus and his parents.
His words of praise are interesting. First, he is now ready to go because he has witnessed the dawn of the new age. He expresses no disappointment at not being able to see how it will all work out; having seen the beginning is enough.
Second, he recognizes that Jesus is the embodiment of salvation. The baby is God’s great inbreaking into this sinful world.
Third, he knows that this salvation is for both Jews and Gentiles; it is for “all peoples” (v. 31). When he turned his attention to the parents, he revealed a very clear understanding of the nature of the Messiah’s ministry. Jesus’ life, while it embodied salvation, would not produce just peace and joy and light. The nature of his witness would be that he would force people to decide for or against God. Some would stumble and fall because of him; some would stand and rise. It is still that way. Very pointedly, Simeon tells Mary of the pain she will feel before the whole story is told.
Anna basically seconds Simeon’s motion. She is a faithful and inspired Israelite, too. A prophet and a faithful worshipper of God, she also recognizes that Jesus is the Messiah.
Some observations for us based on this text:
1. Jesus Christ was and is the Messiah.
2. Rituals and traditions, such as the dedication of children, have a place in our lives. They remind us of who we are and of whose we are.
3. We should live expectantly, always being ready for what God is going to do. That way, we can recognize it, celebrate it, and share it.
4. The message of God embodied in Jesus and continued in the Church is serious business that does not always gain a popular hearing. It is not our task to offend, but it is our task to tell the truth.