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The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord

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According to the Law of Moses, whenever a Hebrew woman gave birth to a child, she became unclean. God commanded, “She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed” (Lev 12:4b). Then God required the woman to bring a sacrifice and present her son before the Lord, to make atonement for sin. If she were poor, like Mary, she could bring two pigeons instead of a lamb. Sacrifice was necessary, because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (He 9:22). This rite of purification and presentation was a reminder that we are sinful from birth, conceived in iniquity. Of course, things weren’t always this way. When God created man, he made him in the likeness of God, after his own image. Male and female he created them… But after the fall, the image of God was lost. When Adam had lived 130 years, he fathered a son in his own likeness, after his image (Gen 5:1-3). And this fallen image has been passed on, father to son, mother to daughter, generation after generation, all the way to you. At your birth, there was already uncleanness and sin. And wherever there is transgression, the Law demands payment. Blood must be shed. Atonement must be made.
Mary’s purification and Jesus’ presentation go together. We observe this festival at the beginning of February, forty days after we celebrate the birth of Christ. But if we consider the nature of that birth, Mary didn’t need to be purified and Jesus didn’t need to be presented. Unlike every other child in human history, Jesus was not conceived in sin. His birth didn’t make Mary unclean. Jesus wasn’t born in the image of sinful Adam. He is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). Jesus didn’t owe a debt to the Law. No atonement was necessary. Every other child needed a sacrifice. You needed a sacrifice. But Jesus didn’t. Likewise, he didn’t need to be presented before the Lord in the temple. He is God himself in human flesh. Wherever Jesus is, there is the presence of God.
Yet the One who created the Law chose to humble himself and be born under the Law. Even as an infant, he kept every part of the Law perfectly. He bore its yoke without complaint, the yoke that Peter tells us neither we nor our fathers were able to bear (Ac 15:10). Jesus didn’t have to do this. He chose to. Our Epistle reading tells us that Jesus was made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation, that is, atonement, for the sins of the people (He 2:17). Jesus didn’t come to the temple for himself. He came for his people. He came for you.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation, or the comforting, of Israel (Lk 2:25a). Why were God’s people suffering? Why did they need comforting? Because of sin. We had not kept God’s Law, and as a result we brought all kinds of trouble upon ourselves. All the way back in the Garden, we didn’t believe that God had prepared good things for us, and we tried to take matters into our own hands. Being made in God’s image wasn’t good enough for us, so we took the fruit and ate it. But Satan lied. We did not become like God. Instead, we lost the image of God and became his enemies. Sin and death entered the world when man declared, “I will become as God.” But God, in mercy, declared, “I will destroy your covenant with sin and death. I will become a man.”
God spoke through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins” (Is 40:1-2). This is the comfort, the consolation that Simeon was waiting for. He took his Savior in his arms and said, “Now, I can depart in peace!” “Depart in peace” doesn’t mean, “Have a good day”, or “safe travels”, or “good luck.” “Depart in peace” means go in the joyful confidence that your warfare against God is now over. You have peace with God because the source of your conflict has been dealt with. The cancer of your heart and brain has been removed. Your sin has been pardoned. Your debt has been paid. Your uncleanness has been purified. How can you be sure of this? Listen to what Simeon said, “Now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your Word.” God promised salvation according to his Word, and Simeon now held that promise, that package, the means of salvation in his arms – the awesome and infinite God of the universe wrapped in swaddling clothes, wrapped in flesh, held in Simeon’s arms.
Simeon did not see the Crucifixion. He didn’t witness the Resurrection. But he didn’t need to! He didn’t need to place his finger in the hole in Christ’s side in order to believe. He trusted in God’s Word. He held the babe in his arms and considered God’s promise of salvation fulfilled. This is faith! Faith hears God’s Word of promise and trusts that it is as good as done. Simeon lived in this faith. This is why he was called a “righteous” man. Abraham also lived in this faith. He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead… Unbelief did not make him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith… fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why [Abraham’s] faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. (Ro 4:19-24). Just like Simeon, you did not see the Crucifixion. You didn’t witness the Resurrection. Were you there when they crucified my Lord? No. You weren’t! But like Simeon, you have held the promised means of salvation in your own hands. You have seen the salvation that God prepared for all people with your own eyes. Here, at our Lord’s Table, the forgiveness that Christ purchased on the cross is delivered to you, wrapped not in swaddling clothes, but in bread and wine. Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Ps 34:8).
This is why we come to church – to taste of Christ, to hear His Word, and to take refuge in Him. It is sheer brilliance that in the liturgy of the church we sing Simeon’s words immediately after receiving the Lord’s Supper. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation” (Lk 2:29-30). Brothers and sisters in Christ, never let anyone take this away from you! This is a confession of faith. It is a confession of Christ, Christ who is present among us today. Satan seeks to destroy your faith in God’s promise. He asks the same question he asked Eve, “Did God really say? Did God really say that your sins are forgiven? Even that one sin that still bothers you? Did God really say that baptism now saves you? Did God really say that the bread and wine are his Body and Blood?” He most certainly did! Chief of sinners though I be, Jesus shed his blood for me (LSB 611:1). How can this be true? According to His Word. How can bread and wine be the Body and Blood of Christ for the forgiveness of all your sins? According to His Word. How can a child in Simeon’s arms be the means of God’s salvation? How can the child be God himself? According to His Word. God speaks, and it is so. Hold fast to Christ’s words for they are life. Cling to his promises for they can never be broken. This is what it means to be a Christian. In spite of the sinful nature that remains within you, in spite of what you see with your natural eyes, in spite of this dark and dying world, you take God at his Word. You trust, like Abraham, that God is able to do what he has promised. And this faith, for the sake of Christ’s perfect life and obedient death, this faith in God’s promise is counted to you as righteousness.
We don’t know the day of Simeon’s death, any more than you know the day of your own death. Perhaps the next day, perhaps not for years and years. God doesn’t tell us. He doesn’t tell you. But when your time comes, you may confess, with Simeon, “Lord, now lettest thou thy 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; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Lk 2:29-32). And having said this, close your eyes in Jesus, for the next thing you see will be the face of your Savior. Amen.
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