Todd A. Peperkorn, STM
Messiah Lutheran Church
The Presentation of Our Lord (trans. to Feb. 3, 2008, rev. from 2003)
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TITLE: “Jesus Presents You Pure and Cleansed to God”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! Amen. Our text this morning is the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple.
The Law of God given to Moses required that a woman, after giving birth, would be set apart for forty days. She could not go to any holy place or touch any holy thing for forty days after giving birth to a son. This was called the period of her purification, because giving birth, even in the best of circumstances, always involves pain and blood. All the way back at the Garden of Eden, the Lord told Eve that she would suffer in child-birth. Even in the giving of life itself, there was an understanding that death is at the door. And death is a very unholy thing, for it is born from sin.
It’s really hard for us to understand the idea of uncleanness and purification as the Scriptures teach. We just don’t think in those categories today. How could Mary be impure because she gave birth to a Son? It’s offensive to think about this. What could be more natural than giving birth? What could be more normal than that?
Of course giving birth and bearing children is a good and salutary thing. Children are always a gift from God and blessing of the Lord. But because of the sin of Eve and Adam, with this blessing from God comes a cross. Let’s face it. Children are messy. They start out messy, and it only gets messier as they get older. The messes just change. And the messiest child of all is what we commonly call an adult. Our lives are full of messes, ones that we cause or ones that seem to fall into our laps. Life this side of the grave is messy business thanks to this common sin which infects us all.
The Scriptures understand this very well, and so every mother at forty days was to bring a lamb to the Temple for a burnt offering and two turtledoves or pigeons for a sin offering. In this way she was cleansed by the death of these animals, and made pure once again. The only way that a mother could be made clean was by death and sacrificed. That was the only way it happened.
The same was true for the son. From the time of Mount Sinai, every firstborn male child of the sons of Israel was holy to the Lord, and dedicated to service in the Temple of God. But since the tribe of Levi were the tribe of the priests, all of the other firstborn sons were redeemed, or bought back from Temple service forty days after their birth. The price for the redemption of a firstborn son was five shekels of silver.
So this forty days was a time of purification for Mary and preparation for Jesus to be presented at the Temple of the Lord. Jesus, the true Temple of God, came to visit the earthly Temple. So it is that this young girl, Mary by name, was purified for forty days after the birth of her Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. At the end of this time, she and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple, along with two turtledoves to make sacrifice, as the Law of Moses required. They were a Jewish couple doing what new families do, to purify the mother and present the Son in the Temple and redeem Him from sacrifice. But this time it was different. This time Mary does not simply bring two turtledoves for her own sacrifice. This time she brings the sacrifice, the one sacrifice of all time, which would cleanse and purify all of us from sin and death forever.
Now this is a bit of a culture shock for you and I. We just don’t think this way. But it is true. Jesus is presented at the Temple of God in Jerusalem and so fulfills the Law of God. They bring the two pigeons to fulfill the Law for Mary His mother, but they do not bring the five shekels of silver for Him. Like the prophet Samuel many, many years before, Jesus will serve the Temple of God. Only this time, Jesus will be the Temple of God, for He is the very Son of God in the flesh.
This is what that old man, Simeon, saw in the little infant Jesus. Simeon picked Him up in his arms, blessed God and said:
“Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, According to Your word; For my eyes have seen Your salvation Which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, A light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, And the glory of Your people Israel.”
Simeon could now depart in peace, because the very Temple of God was now in the flesh of Jesus Christ. And He got to hold Jesus in his very arms. What a blessing indeed! The salvation and redemption of God’s people did not finally lie in turtledoves and temples and shekels and lambs. All of these things were but a shadow that pointed to the One. God’s salvation, the light for the Gentiles like you and I, and the true glory of Israel, came in that little baby that would one day die for the sins of the whole world. Only He could make Simeon whole. And when Simeon held Him in his arms, then he could go home and depart this world in peace.
But that’s not even the most miraculous part of this wonderful story. When do we sing these words, “Lord, now you let your servant depart in peace….”? We sing them right after receiving the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ in Holy Communion. That is no coincidence. What Simeon held in his arms, you take in your mouth. Simeon longed to be in the presence of God, and you take that Real Presence of our forgiving Lord into your very mouth and soul. Take and eat, take and drink, the very body and blood of Christ, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
Incredible, isn’t it? More than incredible. Simeon longed his whole life to have what you receive every week right here, in the Lord’s Supper. Here He cleanses you body and soul. Here He forgives your sins. Here He makes right everything that is wrong and messed up on your life. I said earlier that children are messy, even the adult variety. It is that very messiness which Christ our Lord takes on for you. The Epistle to the Hebrews puts it this way:
“Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”
He was made to be like you, so that He could remake you to be like Him. What a wonderful gift and treasure our Lord gives you in His body and blood! He comes into that messiness, that mire and muck of your life, and cleanses you from all sins. We may truly pray with the hymn:
Jesus, by your presentation,
When they blessed you, weak and poor,
Make us see your great salvation,
Seal us with your promise sure;
And present us in your glory
To your Father, cleansed and pure. (LSB 519:3)
Believe it for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in true faith, unto life everlasting. Amen.