Feast of the Presentation – February 2, 2020 – Luke 2:22-40 – Epiphany, Sherwood
Today we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple.
This feast is always on February 2nd, which means that it isn’t always on a Sunday. However, our tradition considers it such an important moment in Jesus’ life that, when it does fall on a Sunday, we are sure to observe it, eschewing the ordinary lectionary readings.
And so this morning we hear the familiar story of Mary and Joseph bringing their 40-day-old infant to Jerusalem and carrying him into the temple. They do this, not just for the fun of it, but because they are firmly rooted in the tradition of their ancestors. This is what faithful Jewish people do: offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving for the first fruits of their union.
Mary and Joseph can’t afford to sacrifice much, just a couple of birds. There is perhaps no greater evidence of the ordinary-ness of these average, workaday folks. Mary—young, innocent, curious. Joseph—aging, gangly, protective (and a bit awkward because of it). Their boy, Jesus—unusually smiley, yet somehow fussy all the same—is, most of all, just along for the ride.
That’s most infants, isn’t it? Just along for the ride. Carried wherever mother goes: bedroom, laundry room . . . ancient near-eastern Temple. Scoped up by dad, no choice but to tag along to the kitchen sink for a bath, the bassinet for a nap . . . Egypt to hide from Herod’s men.
As the youngest member of my family, I didn’t have much experience around babies until my nephew was born last year. I always thought of babies as very resistant to being taken from the loving and familiar arms of their parents.
To a certain extent that’s true, but there is something special about the earliest months of a child’s life before they are able to express their displeasure at being taken away from mom or dad.
During this time they are perfect examples of innocence and trust. They are, for the most part, content to go along for the ride, with aunt, uncle, grandma, grandpa, friend, neighbor, perfect stranger.
Once when I was watching my nephew I began to talk to him about some of the things that interest me. I explained the theological conundrums faced by homiletical scholars in the 21st century who attempted bring incarnational validity to bear on both their audience analysis and exegetical research.
He was riveted, right there with me the whole time, along for the ride down the path of a former—and perhaps still wanna-be—seminarian.
When I paused, he looked at me, dried formula on his bib, and even if only with his eyes seemed to respond, “Go on.”
This is the developmental stage that Jesus is in now. He’s a baby. He doesn’t understand what anyone is saying although he may be comforted by the tone with which it’s said. Before too long he will begin to recognize the ones who care for him most often, but for now, he’s content just to be along for the ride.
And so he goes not only to the temple, but into the arms of Simeon and Anna. These two have seen it all, and yet they never could have expected the unbounded joy they would feel upon experiencing God’s salvation for the very first time.
We’ve all been along for the ride. Not only as infants, but in our Christian journeys as well. Those of us who were baptized as infants, not yet fully understanding the implications of our joining the Church, were carried along by others who made promises on our behalf and committed to nurture and love us as we grew into them.
Those of us who were baptized as adults may not have been taken along for the ride quite as literally, but we were still carried to the font by the prayers, support, and love of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
The people who took us in their arms, whether those arms be physical or spiritual, must be kin to Simeon and Anna. No, they didn’t proclaim the salvation or redemption that we offered to them; they proclaimed the salvation and redemption that Jesus offers to the entire world—including us.
They were able to do this because they experienced Jesus, but unlike Simeon and Anna, they didn’t have to wait until their old age. Instead, they experienced the promise—and the reality—of God’s salvation when they were younger. Perhaps as children, teens, young adults, newlyweds.
Nor do we have to wait until the end of our lives to experience Jesus. Because others brought us along for the ride, we have experienced God’s grace and peace and love along the way.
The remembrance and celebration of Jesus’ presentation in the Temple offers us an opportunity to reflect on those who brought us into the Church. None of us got here without going along for the ride. Some us might have gone willingly, or unknowingly. Others of us were perhaps resistant, even kicking and screaming. The question is, who carried you?
A parent? A child? Your grandmother or priest or teacher? A husband or wife or a friend you didn’t deserve? Were they just ordinary, average, workaday folks?
Maybe you were enveloped and sustained on this journey chiefly by a source that you could never seem to name. Maybe you were brought along by someone who is in this room right now, or someone who used to sit here Sunday after Sunday. Maybe you don’t know who brought you to this place in your life. Maybe they are unseen, but nonetheless real, communicating with you heart-to-heart.
Whether that person lives down the street or dwells in realms on high, they are still a part of you. They are a part of you because they played a role, however great or small, in taking you along on the ride of a lifetime, a journey on which you would discover the marvelous grace of God.
Because you were carried down this path, you are prepared to bring others along with you. Is there any greater gift than being grafted into the rich heritage of those who carry each other toward Jesus?
Is there any greater gift than taking hold of the gangly and green, or the tender and mild, or the fussy and frustrating, or the foul-mouthed and fiery, or the humble and holy and introducing them, as you once were, to God’s unconditional love?
Is there anything greater than that? Could there be anything greater than that?