Main Street Community Church

Covenant service

The presentation of Jesus, Luke 2:21–40

This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .

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Luke 2:21.

Eight days after His birth, the baby was circumcised in keeping with Jewish religious requirements, and He was named Jesus, the name the messenger had given Him before His conception in Mary’s womb. After Mary had observed the ceremonial days of [postpartum] purification required by Mosaic law, she and Joseph brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. They were fulfilling the Lord’s requirement that “every firstborn Israelite male will be dedicated to the Eternal One as holy.” They also offered the sacrifice required by the law of the Lord, “two turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

While fulfilling these sacred obligations at the temple, they encountered a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. He was a just and pious man, anticipating the liberation of Israel from her troubles. He was a man in touch with the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Anointed One. The Spirit had led him to the temple that day, and there he saw the child Jesus in the arms of His parents, who were fulfilling their sacred obligations. Simeon took Jesus into his arms and blessed God.

Simeon: Now, Lord and King, You can let me, Your humble servant, die in peace.
  You promised me that I would see with my own eyes
    what I’m seeing now: Your freedom,
  Raised up in the presence of all peoples.
  He is the light who reveals Your message to the other nations,
    and He is the shining glory of Your covenant people, Israel.

His father and mother were stunned to hear Simeon say these things. Simeon went on to bless them both, and to Mary in particular he gave predictions.

Simeon: Listen, this child will make many in Israel rise and fall. He will be a significant person whom many will oppose. In the end, He will lay bare the secret thoughts of many hearts. And a sword will pierce even your own soul, Mary.

At that very moment, an elderly woman named Anna stepped forward. Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She had been married for seven years before her husband died and a widow to her current age of 84 years. She was deeply devoted to the Lord, constantly in the temple, fasting and praying. When she approached Mary, Joseph, and Jesus, she began speaking out thanks to God, and she continued spreading the word about Jesus to all those who shared her hope for the rescue of Jerusalem.

After fulfilling their sacred duties according to the law of the Lord, Mary and Joseph returned with Jesus to their own city of Nazareth in the province of Galilee. There Jesus grew up, maturing in physical strength and increasing in wisdom, and the grace of God rested on Him.

(Luke 2:21–40, VOICE)

There’s been quite a lot on Facebook over the last week or two, about people not knowing what day of the week it is because every day feels like a Sunday, apparently. I think this is meant to reflect that for many, the 10 days off taken between Christmas and New Year, all the days blend into one long meal of eating cheese and turkey sandwiches, not cheese and turkey sandwiches because that would be odd, but cheese and turkey sandwiches. It’s difficult to know where one day ends and another begins. Especially when the usual rhythms of life are interrupted. Even for something as good as Christmas, it’s good disruption.

The traditional church rhythm of reading scripture often brings in Jesus being presented at the temple at this time of year. Mary and Joseph, as good faithful Jewish believers, are doing what the Lord instructs them to do. To have the baby circumcised, and to have him presented. I didn’t find much at all about what this presentation consisted of when I was doing my research. My mind kept wandering back to how Hannah, in the Old Testament, promised God that if she had a son, she would offer him back to God. After she had miraculously given birth and following his weaning, a sacrifice of a bull, some flour, and some wine was made.

After this, the little boy was offered to the priest, Eli, for use as a servant in the House of God. Sacrifice. It’s a religious kind of a word in many ways, but it also suggests that whatever we are sacrificing, whatever we offer, we take seriously. As Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple for purification and for a ritual of presenting him to God, they brought a pair of turtle doves as according to the 12 days of Christmas, but no partridge in the pear tree. This public offering of their son was a meaningful ritual. It wasn’t something just to go through the motions for. As part of the wider Jewish community, they wanted to present their son to God.

We sacrifice together as community, like a big spiritual group hug. Although we don’t offer animals or birds to be burnt, our sacrifice is firstly to offer ourselves to God. We also submit to one another. We seek what is best for the other. Putting one another before ourselves. This is Koinonia. This is community. This is fellowship. Just as Mary and Joseph wanted their community to share in the blessing of a new son, we want our community to share in the blessing of God and Main Street Community Church. Part of that blessing is to ensure that we are right with one another. That we commit to our unity, and our friendship, and our united faith in Christ.

This is in our DNA at Main Street. We welcome everyone. At the beginning of this year, it seems appropriate and timely to remember the sacrifices that Mary and Joseph made for God to work in them. They agreed to join with God in the Immaculate conception, in the virgin birth, in the flight to Egypt, in the safekeeping of the boy child, Jesus, because the promise was that he was the Messiah. The unbelievable gift of the liberator from God, who would not just save the Jewish people from their captors, the Romans, but for the whole world.

As we remember the sacrifice of giving up a normal life to wholly serve the God they worshipped, perhaps, at the start of 2020, we offer ourselves afresh to the work of God in this place. This is why our act of communion was a little different this morning. The act of partaking in the bread and the wine enabled us to act, to come forward to receive the elements. Those who received an anointing of olive oil: it’s a Biblical ritual of blessing, of unity, of healing, of God’s oneness with his beloved creation.

Our service today has been full of poignant ritual. Ritual and sacrifice are part of the rhythm of our spirituality, whether or not we notice these things. God doesn’t need sacrifice or ritual of stuff. He wants our hearts. Sometimes a collective action, as part of a community of faith, reminds us of our commitment to God, to what we believe, to who we are committed. These rituals are sacred. As I was preparing this message, I remember Cilla’s daughter, Laura, gave me a copy of the Street Bible by Rob Lacey. Cilla had often mentioned it, and Laura felt that I should have it.

It’s a summary of scripture, together with so many commentary by the author, to keep the message of the Bible very readable as a whole story. This is what it said of the presentation of Jesus. It’s entitled, Great Uncle Simeon. Eight days on, after the birth of Jesus, the Davidson family. Clever, Joseph is the son of David, so Rob Lacey calls the holy family the Davidsons. Clever, I thought so. The Davidson family sought out the religious and legal side of things at Jerusalem HQ, the temple. God’s Holy Spirit directs an old guy, Simeon, to be there at the same time.

He holds the baby and says, “You’re in charge, God. You told me I’d see him, and here I am cuddling that bundle of wonder. Bury me, I’m a happy old man. I’ve seen your liberator. The eye-opener of outsiders, the pride and joy of the Jews. I’m happy now. Take me now.” Just as Hannah had given her baby, Samuel, to the work of God. Simeon now offers himself back to God because God had fulfilled his promise to Simeon. Similarly, the Prophetess Anna, who’s 84 years old or young, saw the importance of the newly presented Holy Child.

Although she stayed within the temple grounds day and night, she seems to have had the ear of the people. When she had seen Jesus, she could tell them that this baby was the one Israel had been waiting for. The patient hope for which both she and Simeon had waited was finally now coming true. Now, by the end of the first two chapters of Luke’s account of Jesus, almost all of his readers will have found someone in the story with whom they could identify. An older couple, Elizabeth and Zechariah, surprised to have a child in their retirement. The young girl, Mary, surprised to have a child so soon.

Her husband, Joseph, now offering the specified sacrifice, but willing to take on the mantle of preparing and parenting the Son of God. Now we have an older man and an older woman, according to Tom Wright, waiting their turn to die, worshipping God day and night, and in praying for the salvation of his people. Luke wants to draw readers of every age and stage of life into this picture, no matter who you are. The story of Jesus, from the manger in Bethlehem, to the empty tomb and beyond, can become your story. Jesus grew in wisdom and in strength. Gaining favour with God and people, and so must we.

Our commitment must be to our faith. Our understanding, not just of who Jesus was in the Bible, but who he is in our lives and our actions today, to one another in fellowship, beyond into our lives, our workplaces, our families, our social groups, our homes. Jesus, his life, his example, his death and resurrection, is the new covenant which he speaks of at the Last Supper. We are now part of that new covenant, that new promise. Jesus is our brother, our saviour, our friend. He invites us to live our part today. I know that we come from all different spiritual backgrounds. I was brought up in a Baptist Church. Others here will be from different Christian traditions or of none.

None of this makes a difference, really, as we sit here together. We are one in Christ. He draws us together. Together we are Main Street Community Church. Without you, and without one another, we are weaker and we are not complete. We need one another. We need strength in friendship and faith. I wonder, what makes you belong here? Because belonging to a family, a community, is really important. What makes you remain here as part of our fellowship? Whatever it is, that’s commitment. That’s part of your relationship with God and to one another. Part of our community.

I guess we are all here because we know that God has us in this place for his own purposes and his own reasons. It’s a place where you are always welcome. I would venture that you don’t even have to believe to belong here, but believing God enhances the depths of our being together. Everyone’s welcome. Belonging is such an important thing in a world where people today don’t always feel they’re part. Especially, perhaps, when there’s discord or breakdown of one relationship or another. If you are here, then maybe you do belong here.

Hopefully, your belonging might encourage you to believe a little or maybe a lot. Perhaps because of the influence of the people you meet here and share your life with here, then perhaps your outlook on life has or will change to become more like that to the way of Jesus. That’s all Jesus really wants. To see things his way. To follow, however shakily, in his footsteps. Perhaps we can have a look at this prayer. It’s the Methodist covenant prayer, hopefully. No, that’s not the one.

Nearly three years ago, I stood here and made promises to the church. I don’t remember precisely what those promises were, but I’m sure they were about keeping close to God, supporting and blessing the church as I became its pastor, and ensuring that we committed to loving one another. I wonder if this morning we might take our faith afresh and anew.

This covenant prayer is a challenge. I wonder whether at the beginning of this new year, we might say it to God and to one another. As we look at this covenant prayer, created by the Methodist Church, I wonder, what jumps out at you? What might you find easy to say? What might you find more difficult to say? What things might God be asking you to stop or to continue? What new thing might God place in your life? If you want to say this prayer with me, please do.

I am no longer mine but yours.
Put me to what you will,
rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing,
put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you,
or laid aside for you,
exalted for you,
or brought low for you;
let me be full,
let me be empty,
let me have all things,
let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things
to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.

May God give us the strength to follow him. Not out of a business contract form of understanding, but through a deep relationship, by means of grace through which we accept what God offers, and then seek to sustain it. May our commitment to God, uncomfortable and challenging though it might be, enable each one of us to become deeper disciples of Jesus, and closer brothers and sisters here at Main Street. Amen.

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Scripture quotations marked VOICE on this page and in the audio are taken from The Voice™. Copyright © 2008 by Ecclesia Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved.