Presentation of Christ in the Temple – Rembrandt
The Feast of the Presentation of our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple is not one we know well. So, let’s talk Theology: The Presentation marked on February 2nd is the other half of the Annunciation marked on March 25th (9 months from Christmas
Gabriel – Annunciation of great joy – He is Messiah & Virgin born
Anna & Simeon – Presentation of great suffering – He will redeem his people at great cost.
The reading from Hebrew Scripture is from Malachi, the last of the prophets. He writes, “. . . and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight — indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts.”
The prophet tells the House of Israel and us two things: 1. The Lord is coming and 2. He is coming to the temple.
In the 1st Century the longing for Messiah was keenly felt in the era of Roman occupation. The temple of that period, the third temple was built by King Herod, the Roman puppet king. In 19 BC he began work on a new temple at Jerusalem. He did this to win favour with his subjects and to impress the Roman world with his splendid building. The main building was finished in ten years but work continued for the next fifty.
The temple itself was covered with so much gold that it was a blinding sight in the bright sun. The temple platform was extended beyond the hill to enclose an area of 35 acres. I have read that 24 or so football fields would fit on that vast platform. It could be seen from outer space. At its southern end, it stood 100-150 feet above ground level. A covered cloister ran right around the outer courtyards.
The Temple was laid out in concentric courtyards.
- The main entrance was from the south, and led to the Court of the Gentiles. Anyone could enter this part of the temple. [Notices in Greek and Latin forbade non-Jews to enter the inner court of the temple.]
- The next court was the Court of the Women. This was as far women were allowed to go into the temple itself. It was here where Mary and Joseph stopped.
- Men could go further, into the court of Israel.
- The inner court was limited to priests only.
- In the center of the complex was the Holy of Holies where only the High priest went once a year on the Day of Atonement.
The point I want to make here about Mary and Joseph presenting Jesus in the Temple, is that it is nothing like anything we have ever seen. You may think this is sort of like a baptism since we tend to view the Scriptural setting as identical to our own.
Not so, put that right out of your head.
Going to the Temple was less like going to Church than going to the Fair!
Model of Temple
The centerpiece of temple worship was the ritual slaughter of animals: sheep, goats, bulls, and if you couldn’t afford four-legged animals a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. By this time the Jews were no longer a nomadic people, each family with their own flocks. But you still needed animals for sacrifice. A thriving business grew up supplying animals for sacrifice. [You recall that Jesus did something about that but that is 33 years in the future.] So:
- You bought your animal, got in line and when your time came you presented your beast to the priests.
- They killed the animal and it’s blood poured down a special drainage system designed to drain away the vast amounts of blood spilled every day.
- The outdoors altar was a slaughter assembly line with the Sun shining and the animals bellowing.
- Some of the meat went to the priests;
- Some of it was used for your family ritual meal, while the remaining parts were burned.
- It was a bloody, smoky, smelly place.
- At the same time worshipers were praying out loud,
- Choirs were singing psalms
- Religious scholars were holding forth to their students in the porches around the courtyards.
Going to the temple and going to church have little in common unless we open a stock yard at the Cathedral and hold graduate classes in theology and choir rehearsal at a continuous Pentecostal revival and barbecue!
“ . . . And the Lord you seek will suddenly come to His temple!” Certainly Simeon knew the words of the Malachi. And then it happened one day, not perhaps the way he had imagined but nevertheless it happened. A couple came into the temple to make sacrifice, as required by the law, for their first-born son. Most families sacrificed a sheep or a calf. The law made provision for people of less means. They could get by with a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.
The irony is that all the crowds that thronged the temple that day did not discern the presence of Messiah, the very one that they desired. They were so busy doing what was required that they missed the great day, when the Son of God had his coming out, presented to all the world and only two eccentrics whose eyes were fixed, looking for God, saw him.
The Spirit gave Simeon the gift of recognition. So Simeon spied them and his heart, long trained to look for Messiah, discerned in the face of the little one, the face he had longed to see: the face of the holy one. Taking the babe in his arms, he blessed God in the words we sing at evening prayer or often at the burial of a Christian, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace.”
Anna, eighty-four years old, who lived in the temple and worshiping there fasting and praying day and night came in. She too recognized the child as the promised one, and began to tell the news to all who were looking for the redemption of Israel.
This Day is also called Pro Orantibus [For those who pray] These two old people, Simeon who prayed and dreamed, Anna who prayed and fasted may have been half blind with age but the eyes of their imagination were clearly and sharply focused.
Mark Twain once said, “
“You cannot trust your eyes, if your IMAGINATION is out of focus.”
If Renewal Works has taught us anything it is that while everyone owes God One soul, the care and feeding of your soul cannot be delegated, hired out or left to force feeding by the clergy. It can however be neglected, starved and abused.
RenewalWorks is a process we are using to get our imaginations in focus! How?
- We are reading some scripture from day to day or at least regularly; not enough we believe but more scripture than we have in the past. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly! It doesn’t take much Bible to affect us! Embedding our lives in Scripture focuses our imagination!
- In the breaking of bread: To discern the presence of our Lord in the bread and wine. We believe that in this place we encounter the risen Jesus in bread and wine just as he promised. If this is true do you see it is the most important thing we do all week!
- In our own inner life I believe that God is speaking to us constantly in our prayers, dreams, visions, and hunches. But we are to busy doing our daily sacrifices of time, talent and ambition to even notice. It is only when we are willing to slow down and focus our imaginations that we can trust our eyes.
- In each other: God often seems to speak to me through the people in my life. Parker Palmer once wrote that, “Community is that place where the person you cannot stand always live.” It takes a work of imagination to see that we are all gifts of God to each other, especially those who irritate and scare us the most.
- In the faces of the poor and stranger: The Blessed Teresa of Calcutta spoke of Jesus in his disturbing disguises. She said that when she encountered him in the breaking of bread that she could encounter him in his most distressing disguises. Eyes with focused imagination see him and hear him, “If you have done to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters you have done it unto me.”
Icon of the Presentation
I ask you to take better care of your souls. Please call on us. The clergy are not paid to be Christians for you. The clergy are here as player-coaches. We are in ministry of equipped and coaches ministers. Please, Please, by the mercies of God come and join in this movement.
In our baptism we are given the gift of the Spirit, who penetrates history and existence in order to focus our imaginations will come into focus. With clear eyes it is easy to discern the Holy One in us, between us and to holy hands for the care those in need.
I see you. I see him in you. Look around you will see him too. To him be glory now and forever. Amen