We don’t often get to preach on the Presentation – it only falls on a Sunday when Christmas is on a Wednesday. Today in our Gospel lesson, we get to learn a bit more about Mary and Joseph’s Jewish practice. I’m sure that none of you are shocked to learn that Jesus’ family was devout, practicing Jews. We get a little glimpse of how that looks here.
On the 40th day after Jesus’ birth – yep this is 40 days since Christmas – Mary and Joseph go to the Temple for two reasons. The first would be that Mary was unable to go to the Temple before this. A woman was considered unclean for forty days after the birth of a male child, so this was her first opportunity to be back in worship. The second reason was that it was time to “present” Jesus – and a sacrifice is called for here. This was a sacrifice of both remembrance and thanksgiving. The Jewish people remember well the events of the Passover, when all of the first-born male children and animals of Egypt were not spared the wrath of God, but the first-born male children and animals of the Israelites were spared. So there is a blood sacrifice required: a lamb if a family was wealthy enough, or two birds if they were not. Mary and Joseph bring their two birds along.
Upon entering the Temple for this service, they meet Simeon. A righteous, devout, common Jewish man who is so tuned into the Spirit that when the Spirit nudges him toward this family, he immediately goes over to them. He has been patiently waiting for this sign from God, this Son of God and his waiting has been rewarded. I hope his words sound familiar to you, “for these eyes of mine have seen the savior whom you have prepared for all the world to see,” the Song of Simeon is in every morning prayer, evening prayer and compline in our own daily offices. Simeon is a common Jewish man who has attended to his own daily prayer habit and here is where his prayers are answered: in Jesus Christ. Simeon foreshadows what is to happen in 30 years before leaving the family – an old man who will now dwell in contentment until he dies.
We also meet Anna – a prophetess. She is also very devout – a practicing Jewish woman who prayed and fasted and worshipped faithfully. She has the designation of being a Prophet. She may have even lived in the Court of Women at the Temple. She too was patient in her piety: she never ceased to worship, to pray or to hope and now her patience and unceasing hope are rewarded also.
And then we get some of the very few words written about Jesus in childhood, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of the God was upon him.”
So we get some interesting history and cultural lessons in this Gospel. We learn just how devout Jesus’ parents are – how dedicated they are to their faith traditions – how they will raise Jesus as a young Jewish man as an observant and practicing Jew. That alone may have been why Luke is so exacting in detail here, but what are we to learn from this? What do we take out of this to get us through our week?
Anna is a prophet – she may be a bit out of our reach for someone we can emulate. What about Simeon though? He is an example to us of a person who is obedient to God and pious in his faith. Obviously in his prayers he has learned to hear God – to recognize the voice of the Spirit when it nudges him toward the young family. He does not hesitate. He is a man who knows God’s voice as well as he knows his own – he has learned to watch for the movement of the Spirit around him with a well-honed, prayer-worn intuition. That is surely something to which we can all aspire. Listening for the voice that is God’s, watching for the Spirit moving among us, recognizing that Holy Nudge to act. Simeon is an example for us – it is no accident that he is present in our daily prayers and devotions.