4th Sunday after the Epiphany
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
Title: Blessed are those who live as God desires
The Greek word that is translated as blessed in our Gospel reading this morning, depending on the context in which it is used, can be translated as blessed, fortunate, or happy as the world defines those things. In other words, being blessed or happy or joyful comes from our attitude and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Unfortunately, that type of happiness, joyfulness, or blessedness can change quickly.
An example of this would be something like this. Penny, our children, and I occasionally went camping in a National Forest or Park. I would try to find a quiet place with a view of the lake, away from the other campers. That, to me, was happiness. Then, occasionally someone in a motorhome would park next to us. That in itself was not too bad until they turned on their generator. My happiness turned quickly to unhappiness. You see, my happiness depended on the circumstances around us at the time.
What image pops into your mind when you think of being happy or joyful? What are some of the happiest moments in your life? For most of us, family occasions are amongst some of the happiest days of our lives. What are those things or qualities that enable you to be happy? Food? Family? Friends? Health? Clothing? Good relationships? A roof over your head? Money in the bank? Knowing that others love you? All of these? Some of these? What are the ingredients that create a recipe of happiness for you? Did you notice that our view of happiness depends on the circumstances and environment we find ourselves experiencing.
It is with this mood and theme of happiness that we approach the New Testament gospel lesson for today. The gospel lesson for today is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus says, "Blessed are the….".
Unlike the worldly concept of happienence which is fleeting, the biblical concept of being blessed or happy is something that comes from outside of us and our circumstances, for blessed or happiness, or joy, depending on how you translate the Greek word, has the meaning of being blessed in the sense of being the recipient of God's favor. Being blessed has to do with the Spirit of God living inside you. Being blessed is the assurance that God is with you and in you in all circumstances. It knows that in all circumstances, good and bad, God is in control and will take care of you. It knows that God has a plan, a purpose, and a prayer for you, even when the circumstances are unhappy. This all means that you can be blessed or happy during unhappy circumstances.
That does not sound right. You see, the problem we have is we live in an upside-down world that we consider right side up. So we often understand God's words in a way that makes sense to us, and if it doesn't, we throw up our hands and say it makes no sense.
Let's read the Beatitudes together.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
You see that Jesus' definition of what it means to be blessed doesn't depend on you and what is happening around you? The "blessed" sayings of Jesus – the Beatitudes – present us with a whole new idea of what it means to be blessed, or happy, or joyful, depending on how your Bible translates the Greek word. True blessedness involves knowing God, belonging to God's Kingdom, being a part of God's family, relying on Jesus' love for us, being certain that he will always stand by us, and holding us up when the journey is challenging. It is all about the grace of God.
True blessedness happens when God finds you in the middle of all the difficulties you have living out your Christian faith in your daily lives; when you are sad and upset; when you are despondent and depressed; when others reject you and ridicule you for your faith or for sticking up for what you believe is right; when you are trying to show mercy and love or bring about peace and are told to butt out. That is when God meets you, Strengthens and comforts you, helps you endure, and gives you the courage to move on. That is being blessed.
The Beatitudes are all about God's grace. You don't have to do something to earn this blessedness. In truth, it cannot be earned, only received as a gift from God. A pure gift of God's grace.
That's the secret of true blessedness, happiness, or joyfulness, the kind that rises above the circumstances and gives you peace! You may be suffering a great deal from sickness; you may be persecuted for doing what you consider the right thing; you may be upset about your own sinfulness or the weakness of your faith; you may even be disappointed in those who have failed to show love toward you.
Wherever circumstances you find yourself, you are still "blessed" in the knowledge that you are one of God's precious children, that he sent his Son to die for you, and that he has given you his Holy Spirit to inspire, strengthen and encourage you when everything has been turned upside down.
St Paul knew sadness, disappointment, and even poverty, but he also knew that, as he wrote down, "I have the strength to face all conditions by the power that Christ gives me." That blessedness, no circumstance or person can take away from you.
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Epiphany, the season of Light, is when we see that Jesus is the perfect fulfillment of Old Testament properties. In today’s Old Testament reading, Isaiah speaks a prophetic word of liberty and hope in Isaiah chapter 9 to a people who lived in spiritual darkness. Isaiah speaks of the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali. He says, “But there will be no gloom for her who was in anguish. In the former time, he brought into contempt the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, but in the latter time, he has made glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations” (v 1).
Zebulun and Naphtali are part of the Promised Land—the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Looking back in Biblical history, we find that each of the twelve tribes of Israel is allotted its portion of the land. Zebulun is one of those tribes, as is Naphtali, and they were allotted neighboring lands in the northern part of Israel. Think of Zebulun and Naphtali like Pennsylvania and New York. They’re both in the north, and they share a border.
Zebulun and Naphtali are beautiful and fertile areas, but their location in the northern part of Israel makes them vulnerable to foreign invaders. Conquering armies and military incursions. For you see, when foreign countries invade the land of Israel of which they are a part, they almost always come from the north because that’s the easiest way to get into Israel. The Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River, which flows south from it, form a natural barrier along Israel’s eastern edge. The Mediterranean Sea forms a natural barrier to the west. Thus, alien invaders who are looking to go south to Jerusalem or even to Egypt are funneled first through the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. Thanks to the geography of Israel, the tribal lands of Zebulun and Naphtali are perpetually on the front lines of war and bloodshed.
In fact, at the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, invaders known as the Assyrians are in the process of conquering Zebulun and Naphtali. Within a few years, the entire Northern Kingdom of Israel will be completely overthrown, and the remaining Southern Kingdom of Judah will be brought to its knees before God’s miraculous intervention.
Zebulun and Naphtali then are rightly identified by Isaiah as a land upon which the Lord brought contempt. They were a land of darkness and shadow. It was so bad that just a few verses earlier Isaiah called them a land with “no dawn” that suffers “the gloom of anguish” (8:20, 22).
And remember, God had brought these invaders upon the land only because the Northern kingdom, Israel had abandoned him, and fallen into idolatry and all kinds of sin. So Zebulun and Naphtali were a land of contempt filled with people who sit and walk and dwell in the darkness of deeds deemed damning by God.
It is to these hopeless people that Isaiah speaks a word of hope. Isaiah speaks of a stunning reversal of fortunes. God intends to make this “land of contempt” glorious. But how? How will this land go from contemptuous to glorious? We know that the people were incapable of changing. The change has to come from entirely outside them. God will bring upon them another invader. Except for this time, it isn’t a nation that will infiltrate the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. This time it will be just one man. And he doesn’t come to them from out of the north like all the other alien invaders.
He comes from the Southern Kingdom of Judah, from Jerusalem. Jesus does not take hostages, he plunders no grain, he exacts no taxes, and he sheds no blood except his own. Instead, Jesus teaches, and he preaches, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
It is this man—and the good news he brings to the nations —who is a great light upon this land of darkness because the Lord isn’t interested in holding this land in contempt. He isn’t looking to extract from Zebulun and Naphtali their greatest resources. He’s looking to redeem their greatest resource— namely, the people themselves, the people he had formed into a great nation.
The more Jesus preaches, the more Jesus teaches, the more Jesus serves, the brighter the light shines. The evangelist Matthew says, “So [Jesus’] fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them” (Mt 4:24). People are flowing into Zebulun and Naphtali, not to conquer them but to be rescued by one in the midst of them.
As the light of Jesus Christ increases, the true source of darkness is exposed. The greatest threat to the people of Zebulun and Naphtali was never the foreign invaders from the north. The greatest threat to the people of Zebulun and Naphtali is their own sin, the specter of death, and the devil’s schemes. These are the things that held Zebulun and Naphtali in perpetual darkness. These were the real forces of oppression in their lives. And these are the oppressors from whom Jesus will rescue them.
Jesus, like any invader, makes a claim upon this people. He’s claiming to be their Lord, and he’s directing them to acknowledge his father as King. He is not going to force his kingdom on them, for his kingdom is a kingdom of freedom. They will not be won over by threats because his kingdom is of grace. They will not be won over by extortion because his kingdom is a kingdom of gifts and love.
And it is God’s love that will break the yoke of their burden. It is God’s love that will break the rod of their oppressor. It is God’s love that will send Jesus south out of Zebulun and Naphtali to the city of Jerusalem to die on the cross. And when Jesus dies on the cross, Zebulun and Naphtali the people who lived in spiritual darkness, will know that darkness, that is the darkness of sin and unbelief, cannot overcome the Light when Jesus rises from the dead.
You and I don’t share the geographical particulars with Zebulun and Naphtali. If you’re living in North America, you’re unlikely to be on the front lines of any foreign army. But the darkness that engulfed Zebulun and Naphtali doesn’t care about geography because it isn’t darkness caused by someone else. Our darkness is local, homegrown darkness. Our darkness is our own sinful flesh.
For that darkness, Isaiah tells us all to look to Zebulun and Naphtali for hope, because a great light has shone. This light is Jesus Christ and his ministry, and it is a ministry for all people of all times and all geographical places. This light is for you. It invades your life. The salvation first seen in Galilee is now coming for you. Indeed, it’s already here. Jesus Christ the Light is here for you. He expels darkness. He forgives your sins, he casts out the devil, and he promises to raise the dead, all with the effect of increased joy.
Where are you today? Have you been shutting the door of your heart to the light of Jesus? Maybe you have because you think that you do not really need his Light, after all, life is good. Maybe you are afraid of what the Light of Jesus would do if you let it fully illuminate your heart and your life.
Whatever excuse you might have for not living your life in the full Light of Jesus, do not be afraid to open your heart and mind to him. Just do it, trust in him, for the Light of Jesus Christ still burns brightly, waiting to illuminate the darkest corners of your life, even the places where the scary things live, the things you don’t tell anyone about. The things you have tried to forget or excuse. Let his wonderful comforting Light fall on you, for only then will you be free to live life to the fullness he wants you to live it, now and in eternity. Amen
Epiphany 2 series A 1-15-23
This doesn’t happen very often with our readings, but today there’s one theme that can be found in all of our readings from scripture. It’s the notion of being called, not called like being called to supper, but being called to do the Lord’s work.
The readings from Isaiah and from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians both begin with words about being called, about being set apart by God much like the word holy which does not mean sinless, but being set apart for the work of the Lord. This fits right in with today’s section of Matthew’s gospel, in which we hear his account of what is usually called “The Call of the First Disciples.” John the Baptist points to Jesus and says of him, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Two of the Baptist’s disciples hear this, decide to check out this Jesus guy, and end up abandoning John and going off with Jesus instead. It’s this call, the call of these first two disciples, that is the one we need to pay special attention to if we want to understand what it’s usually like to be called by God.
After all, this business of being called is a tricky and important thing. It’s easy to get confused about being called. We tend to equate being called in terms of the language and context in 1 Corinthians and Isaiah. We talk of being called to be ordained or called to a special – usually a full-time and professional – form of service, almost always in the church.
And that’s about all we do with being called, and it’s convenient. By looking at things this way, most of us can listen to the story of the call of these disciples and neatly separate what happened to them from our own lives. “After all, they were called the man himself, Jesus. So we’re safe from all that call business. It’s about someone else.
An interesting perspective on this can be gained by sitting in on the first interview of a person who wants to become a pastor, or a deacon or deaconnes, or a teacher. One of the things you will quickly notice is how folks really struggle with this idea of call.
A few of the people interviewed will have had powerful experiences of the presence of God, and they think that this means they have to do something new and different. This usually means to run off and get ordained.
But the vast majority of people interviewed have come to where they are through pretty ambiguous, complicated, and circuitous paths – paths that have led them to suspect that it might be a good idea to get ordained. At the same time, they aren’t sure if they are “called,” whatever that might mean. So they all just dread talking to the interview committee because they know they will be asked about it, and they all think they ought to have a better answer than they do.
But the fact is, this whole way of looking at and looking for a call from God as a call to a specific job or a task really misses the main point. Sure, there may well be such a special call to a specific ministry or type of service, although that is both rare and very easily misunderstood. But that’s not usually what the Bible is talking about when it talks about being called; it’s not what’s going on in the gospel we just heard, and it’s not what is usually going on with us as God calls us.
For you see, being ordained, or being a missionary or something like that, is quite secondary to the real, the call we all have from God. Those two followers of John the Baptist, who Jesus asked to “come and see,” were called exactly as we are called. They were called to be disciples – just as we are called to be disciples. They were called to be disciples in their place and in their time for the sake of their generation.
One of the things this means is that we don’t have to imitate Andrew’s, John’s, or Peter’s actions to see, with some clarity, how their call is like the call of Christ to each of us us.
The first thing to notice is that Jesus does not first or primarily call them to do a particular task or to fill a particular role. Indeed, he didn’t ask them to do anything. Our call as Christians is not initially for us – as it was not, initially, for his first disciples – a call to tasks.
It is, instead, the call is an invitation to a relationship. Jesus does not say, “Do this”; he says, “Come and see.” He only gives specific content and direction to where that might lead later. There’s a big difference between a call to a task and an invitation to a relationship.
To respond to a call for a relationship, for intimacy, is a very different from signing up to do a piece of work – in the same way, falling in love is very different from getting hired. To set out to do a job requires some clarity about what is involved, it’s negotiable, it has its limits, you know what it looks like when the job is over, and so on. To be called into a relationship – to be called in love – this is an invitation to enter a mystery; it’s to move out in faith into uncharted waters.
When Jesus says, “Follow me,” he is first calling us to himself – to personal intimacy and shared life. That’s what matters. That’s what is primary. Everything else is left behind; everything else becomes secondary.
If we look at Jesus’ call from the perspective of what’s left behind, it’s a call to repent. But if we see that same call from the perspective of what comes next, it’s a call to seek him first, to know him better, and to move toward making that relationship the central focus of our lives.
When we are called, and we are called, each and every one of us – just look again at our Baptismal Covenant – this is primarily a call to be held by Jesus for a while, and not to go anywhere, not to do anything. It’s a call to find out where Jesus lives, and to spend some time living there. By and by, this will lead us somewhere. But we won’t know where for a while, maybe not for a long while.
This is why a sense of call – something that wanders through our lives from time to time – can often be both frightening and frustrating. We might know something, perhaps something very important is going on, something that has to do with all of our life and much more. Then, grabbing onto the wrong notion of a call from God, we start looking for what we are called to do. After all, we live in a society that insists that for something to be important, it has to produce results.
Instead of that, we are, especially at the beginning, asked to get to know God and Jesus a little better. It’s a call to listen and to wait. It’s a time to imitate the psalmist and “listen to what the Lord God is saying.” We need that first. We need that most.
This happened to those first disciples – they stayed close to Jesus for a while. They learned what they could and came to know him a little. Then, admittedly long before they thought they were ready, Jesus gave them things to do. For some, these tasks were dramatic; for others, they were quiet and invisible. The call to Jesus will always, in one form or another, find expression in ministry. But the call comes first. There can be no real, abiding, and sustaining ministry without a relationship with Christ, without obedience to him as he calls us to himself.
You see, first of all, each of us is called to be a disciple. That call comes with our baptism, and that call to relationship and ministry will haunt us, and track us down; it will trouble our sleep and whisper in our ears at the worst possible times. It will grow stronger and weaker and stronger again. It may seem to go away, but it always comes back. Because finally, it’s our Lord calling us to himself. It’s his call to life, to joy and to true peace. It’s a call to all of us.
I will never forget you.
"I will never forget you."
Christmas seems such a long time ago now, but it was just three weeks ago that we celebrated the birth at Bethlehem, the beginning of the earthly life of our Savior.
Today we celebrate another beginning in the life of Jesus - it is the beginning marked by Baptism. Jesus is now a grown man and approaches the banks of the River Jordan one hot and dusty day. There he comes face to face with John the Baptist and is baptized. This action in the waters of the Jordan marked a new beginning for Jesus that would end at the cross of Calvary. As Jesus left the Jordan River, we are told 'heaven was opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God coming down like a dove and lighting on him. Then a voice said from heaven, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased."
Jesus is about to embark on the most difficult journey anyone could undertake over the next few years. It would involve every kind of hurt - verbal, physical, mental and spiritual - from his enemies and even from those who were the closest to him. And as he begins this part of his life, he hears these powerful words of affirmation, "You are my own dear Son."
There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus, knowing what was coming, gathered strength from those words. What a way to begin a new part of one's life! What a way to feel before setting out on a new course! What a thing to hear and reflect on later when the challenges that life would throw at him would be almost too much to bear.
How many times would you have loved to hear, "Well done! I am pleased with you." Being critical and negative is easy, which is strange because we all have felt at some time the pain of a hostile and critical comment. Our society, for the most part has become a people who have become focused on criticizing and accusing instead of affirming each other.
Praise the Lord that we have a God who is an affirming God, an encouraging God. Usually, we express our appreciation after a person has done something that pleases us, but with God, it's different.
For before Jesus had told a single story, did a single miracle, or healed a single person, before Jesus remained faithful to his task as Savior, before he spoke about God's love and forgiveness, in fact, before he did anything, there is God's affirmation of who he is. "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
God affirmed Jesus at the beginning of his ministry, and he affirms his relationship with us even before we can do anything that we might think would earn God's favor. In grace, he says to us, "You are my dear child, and that pleases me."
God said that to each of us on the day of our Baptism. For most of us, he said it when we were too small even to know what was going on. Through the water and his Word of promise, God made a one-sided deal, in that he promises to be our Father and Savior who will love us and care for us throughout our journey through life. He is ready to do that even when we have done nothing to win such approval.
In Baptism, God promises to support and nurture us. He gives us a new life, a new beginning, and the hope of eternal life. He gives us the Holy Spirit to plant in us the seed of faith that grows in maturity as we journey through life. All of this is God's action that marks us forever as God's children.
Baptism is an act of God that celebrates how special and precious we are in God's eyes. In our Baptism, as in the Baptism of Jesus, we celebrate God's welcoming love, a love that comes before anything we may have done and anything we may yet do.
And the wonder of it all is that each morning God's mercies are renewed as he promised us. Each morning he renews his love for us, and each day he speaks to us tender words about who we are, how much we are loved and encourages us to be who we are – God's children who share the love of God in words and acts of kindness in a world that badly needs all the positive input that it can get. That's part of the covenant God has established with us – to give others the same kind of love and forgiveness that he has given us.
And even though we often fail to do what God wants us to do God's love always remains unconditional -it always affirms us, nurtures us, and calls us again to live as one of God's dearly loved children.
When the water of Baptism is poured over us, however long ago that might have been, the pure grace of God was at work at that moment and ever since. In our Baptism, He created a new relationship with us and made a personal promise to each of you that he will always be close by as our Savior and Helper.
In his Word to us, he tells us, "It doesn't matter where life's journey will take you, I will walk beside you. Even if you aren't always loyal to me, I will always be loyal to you. When life takes a turn for the worse, I will be there to comfort and help you. When you need strength to overcome trouble, I will be your strength. When you call to me in prayer, I will hear and respond in a manner that is best for you. When it comes to your dying moment, I will take you to the place I have prepared for you in heaven".
That is his promise, a promise to all those he calls his dear children. In the Old Testament, he promised the people who were experiencing very troublesome times, as he told them through his prophet, “I have written your name on the palms of my hands."
How's that for affirmation and encouragement? The almighty and all-powerful God of the universe commits to affirming us as his dearly loved children even when we don't feel we deserve that kind of favor. He tells us he will hold our hand to comfort and encourage us even when the situation appears to be hopeless.
None of us knows what the future will hold. You can be sure that this year will have days of trouble. In those days of trouble, God's promise to never forget us and always be there with his loving help and support makes us realize what a wonderful God we have.
Today, we recall the way Jesus was affirmed and encouraged by the voice from the heavens and the descending dove, is a great day to remember with thanks the way God has assured us that we are his "dearly loved children" and affirms that regardless of what may happen he will not forget us and hold our hand, even carry us if necessary, through dark valleys and troublesome times.
This promise is certain, for God says to you, "You are my own dear child." "I will never forget you. … I have written your name on the palms of my hands". Amen
Circumcision and naming of Jesus Sunday
Text: Luke 2:21
Title: The Day God Returned To The Temple
When I was putting the final touches on my sermon a hymn number 370 in our hymn book came to mind that starts off asking the question, "What Child is this who, laid to rest On Mary's lap is sleeping? Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping?" The rest of the hymn then proceeds to answer those questions, as it tells who Jesus is and his purpose for being born.
I would imagine that hymn was based on Saint Luke's Gospel, for, in Luke's Gospel, we find the answer as to who Jesus is and his purpose in being born. In the first chapter of Luke, starting at verse 30, we read, "And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end. The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy--the Son of God."
God overshadowed Mary. And in doing so, God had entered her womb in some mysterious way that we can't understand, just as God overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant when it was placed in the Holy of Holies of the temple.
There is a lot of other good stuff going on in those verses, but because we don't have much time this morning, I want to get started on our Gospel reading. "And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name the angel gave before he was conceived in the womb."
I chose to take a closer look at this verse today because today is the feast day of the "Circumcision and naming of Jesus." This feast day which is always on January 1 has been celebrated by the Christian Church since 567 AD. The circumcision part of the feast has fallen out of favor for some time, for circumcision is something not talked about. It is bloody and not a very nice thing to talk about on Sunday morning, so it generally gets overlooked.
The problem with not studying this verse to learn why Saint Luke wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is to miss out on what God wants us to know about the circumcision and naming of Jesus, which by the way, means "Yahweh saves," or, if you want to really get to the root of the Jesus' name it is "I Am that I Am saves."
When Jesus was circumcised, it was not a private event as it is now. It was done publically, at the synagogue, for the circumcision of a male marked the boy as an Israelite, a people set apart, by God, from the other nations that did not circumcise their boys. It was a big event, but in Jesus case it was an even bigger event, for in the shedding of his blood, Jesus, God Incarnate, the "Great I Am that saves," as a living breathing first born son of Israel was obeying the law of God, so that we who are under the law could be redeemed from the curse of the law.
Thirty-two days later, that is forty days after his birth, Jesus arrives at the temple with Mary and Joseph. They were there because God's law given to the Israelites said that every firstborn male child was to be set apart to the Lord. Mary, before she could enter the temple, made her sacrifice of two turtle doves or two pigeons, we don't know which, for her purification after giving birth.
This is why Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were there that day. It was just a normal thing to do when the first Son was born to an Israelite family. There were probably lots of families doing the same thing that day. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were just one family of many.
As they entered the temple area after Mary's purification and Jesus' dedication to the Lord, something unusual happened; something really big. Simeon, who we are told is a righteous old man who had been told that he would not see death until he saw the Lord's Christ, led by the Holy Spirit, picks Jesus out of all those baby boys there that day and exclaims, "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."
Those beautiful words of Simeon, which we sing on most Communion Sundays after God has entered us through the bread and wine of his Supper that we eat and drink, announce to all people throughout all time that God had arrived at the temple. Salvation for all has arrived, as God had promised after Adam and Eve sinned.
Let's take a moment and step back some 600 years earlier, before Jesus was born so that we can get a better understanding of the significance of Jesus' circumcision, his naming, and Simeon's prayer of thanksgiving. Six hundred years earlier, when Babylonia defeated Israel and sacked the temple, the Ark of the Covenant was taken, never to be found again.
The Ark of the Covenant was not just a box with religious articles in it. It was where God resided among the Israelites in the Holy of Holies. On the Ark of the Covenant was the mercy seat where God met the High Priest and spoke to the people while being hidden in smoke or a cloud.
For almost 600 years, God had not resided among his people. He had not spoken through his prophets for 400 years. It was a spiritually dark time for the nation of Israel. It was not God's choice but the result of the nation of Israel turning its back on God. Much like where the United States and most of the world are today, most of the people who even still worshiped God had made their worship into just ritual and tradition, as many who consider themselves Christians do today. God's people were lost.
God needed to do something, so he did what no one else could do. He came as one of us; Jesus, God in the flesh. He was born of Mary with no earthly father. He was circumcised and named according to the law of God. And now, just 40 days into his earthly life, Jesus, Immanuel, God with us, enters the temple. Not in smoke or a cloud or the Ark of the Covenant, but in the arms of Mary his mother. The infinite God has come back into the temple almost 600 years after he had left the temple; a living, breathing baby, God in the flesh, enters the temple.
Jesus is the "Ark of the Covenant" in person. There will be no return of the "Ark of the Covenant," for there is no need. God Incarnate, the "Great I Am that saves," has entered our lives, not hidden in smoke or a cloud, but as one of us bringing all people who will accept it the gift of comfort and consolation between God and us.
So you see, in Jesus' circumcision and naming, his entire life is explained. The shedding of his blood in his circumcision foreshadows his blood being shed on the cross where our sin, and our death were removed and cut off so that we might have the true circumcision of our heart, as we are told in Colossians 2:11, "In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ."
In his name, we hear "Yahweh saves" and are saved from God's wrath because Jesus is the promised Messiah. He is the one promised after Adam and Eve sinned. He is the one who stood in the courtroom of God and was found guilty and punished instead of us, even though we still deserve to be punished. He is the one who now turns and says to us, as we stand in amazement at what we just heard, "You are guilty yet not guilty." "Why are you still standing here? Go, live your life, for God chooses you to be his and do good works in his name. Amen
Rev. Dennis Rhoads
Vacancy pastor. LCMS