This Sunday we celebrate the presentation of Jesus at the temple. The presentation of a first-born son at the temple was an important ritual in the Jewish tradition. In Hebrews we read, “For it is clear that [Jesus] did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham.” In both Luke and Hebrews, we are reminded that Jesus was born into the Jewish faith. The one true God entered our world in the flesh that he might show us the way to truth and life.
As Luke continues, we learn that the Holy Spirit has revealed to a man, Simeon, that he will not see death until he has seen the Messiah. At once, he knows that the child Mary and Joseph are presenting at the temple is the Messiah. What he says, we refer to as the Song of Simeon. The translation we use in Morning Prayer is:
Lord, now lettest thou they servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared before the face of all people To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel
In this story we see a message that will be repeated in Luke, Jesus has come for all people – Jews and Gentiles alike.
Jesus has come to be a light to lighten for us the path to truth, life and peace. In order to show us the way, God enters our world and experiences what we experience – from birth to death.
The prophet Anna also comes to the temple, sees Jesus and begins to “praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.” These two people confirm that Jesus has come to fulfill the words of the prophets and bring salvation to the people of Israel, but they do not say he has come to bring redemption to only the Jewish people. Jesus offers redemption and salvation to each of us. Just what this means, however, can be misconstrued.
This week I heard a story about a minister who was not from here. The daughter of man who had died was concerned about her father’s salvation. She described him as a man of principles and faith, love and honor, a man who helped others. He loved and supported his wife and children, but he was Jewish and had not accepted Christ as his Lord and Savior. He had died and she wanted to know if he was in hell. The minister said, “I’m sorry say this, but yes, your father is in hell”.
Today’s scriptures not only tell us that Jesus came to redeem the lost people of Israel, but to teach us the depth of God’s love for us. On the cross, Jesus forgave those who had persecuted him and who were crucifying him. He died on the cross to draw us to the love of God that we might love God and our neighbors – regardless of their beliefs.
Over and over again, Jesus challenges the beliefs of Jewish leaders because they define their faith too narrowly. They believe that righteousness is defined by how faithfully one follows the law; Jesus measures righteousness by how we express God’s love.
I believe the way of love is what Jesus is referring to when he says in John, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Some, people, focus on the words “except through me,” and fail to understand that Jesus came to teach the way. He is the way of love. Jesus appears to us in many forms – and answers to many different names.
If you believe, as I do, that Christ is within every human being, you will understand that God’s love can shine through the daughter’s Jewish father and that her father, was following the path Jesus taught us to follow. Jesus did not die upon the cross to make us Christians, Jesus died and was resurrected to defeat death for us all.
In the earlier translation of the Apostles Creed, the one said in Rite I, we say we believe that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead, He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God almighty.” Why did he descend into hell?
The love of God is such that it will ultimately overcome all darkness, all evil, and even death itself. The notion that we have one shot at salvation, and if we fail, we will spend eternity in hell is another place where my faith differs from those who believe God’s mercy is limited.
I, like the apostle Paul, believe that nothing can separate us from the love of God. In Romans, Paul wrote,
I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (8:38).
Our salvation is not earned by what we say we believe or even what we do, but we receive salvation by the grace of God.
This is the Good News that I believe we need to share with others. This is what people in our community need to hear. We are all loved by God. Our way of understanding God’s love is through Christ, and Christ’s story needs to be shared as well – but not to help others escape the fiery wrath of a jealous God. Jesus teaches us how to love, how to live in peace – on earth as in heaven.
Being a Christian should not be about waiting for the eternal rewards of heaven, it should be about how we live today. Following Christ’s way changes us and how we see others. Being a Christian helps us to understand that people who lash out have been hurt and people who are greedy are looking for something they cannot find in wealth. Being a Christian helps us to see the humanity within the people are intent on hiding their humanity – and it helps us to to love them. Being Christian helps us to accept and even embrace our differences.
Let us pray.
Loving God help us to see as Simeon did, that Jesus came not to offer salvation to a select few, but to all the peoples of the earth. Fill us with your spirit, that we might be instruments of your love and walk the path of your Son, Jesus Christ. All this we ask in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.