- Father Nicholas Lang
The Presentation of the Lord in the Temple
Many years ago, someone asked me if it were okay to have a good time in church on Sunday. Well, I certainly hope none of us is here to have a bad time. I think we all have enough bad times in our day-to-day experiences. I think we look forward to church because it is a place where we’re pretty much bound to have a good time, even maybe a laugh or two
Like the story the priest told about the little boy who was attending his first wedding.
After the service, his cousin asked him, "How many women can a man marry?" "Sixteen," the boy responded. His cousin was amazed that he had an answer so quickly. "How do you know that?" "Easy," the little boy said.
"All you have to do is add it up, like the priest said: “4 better, 4 worse,
4 richer, 4 poorer."
Listening to the story we just heard in Luke’s Gospel, I find myself thinking that the folks in the story were having a good time in the temple that day, a joyful time. Imagine how these new parents must have felt about all the fuss being made over their baby. Then there is Simeon, whose dream is about to come true. He is soon to behold the Holy One of God who would light up the whole world. Old Anna’s ears perked up when she heard Simeon’s prayer and she was telling everyone who would listen that God was right there. And with all the fuss over the baby Jesus, I can’t imagine that there were not lots of smiles and even some laughter.
The sacred event we recall on this holyday is the fortieth day after the birth of Jesus when, according to Jewish Law, a woman who had delivered a child was restored to the fullness of health and vigor by a ritual purification in the Temple after which she would return to public life and corporate worship. Mary and Joseph are also there to be faithful to another requirement—presenting the first male child to God.
Simeon are real old-timers. We would probably describe them as “ancient.” In their vast number of years being, working, and worshipping in the Temple, they had seen and held many babies; in fact, they had seen everything—well, almost everything. What was extraordinary this day was the unexpected pronouncement by Simeon of a life-giving truth to generations and multitudes of all people.
His words are echoed in the beautiful anthem (we will hear later in that we pray in our office of Evening Prayer. It is known by the first words of its Latin text—Nunc dimittis, “Lord, you now have set your servant free to go in peace as you have promised.” The Holy Spirit had promised Simeon that he would not see death until he came face to face with God’s chosen one, the Savior.
Yet this is more about a family of very humble means, a young and tender mother and older awkward husband whose resources made it difficult to make this trip to Jerusalem and to afford the required offering of turtledoves, whose simplicity and plainness would not have gotten them a second look nor leave any impression on those who saw them come and go.
This very ordinary family came to offer what they could—themselves, just as they were, who they were—and to be faithful to their relationship and commitment to God. Like Mary and Joseph, we come to our “temple,” even though remotely, and offer our faith and our doubts, our candor, our openness, our best and our worst, and await the surprise and mystery of a chance encounter with the living God because the living family of Jesus is here in every one of us, presenting ourselves with all our gifts, all our longings and desires, all our faults and failures, all our resources and all our baggage, all our dreams and all our heart breaks.
Some of us, perhaps, come because we were just raised to do that. And some of us may come because, like Simeon, we are led by God’s Spirit. Like strange old Anna, we come from all walks of life. However we get here, God gives us each other and, once we’re here, God shapes us into a community ready to receive God’s revelation, and then God is present to us—in Scripture, in Sacrament, in one other.
Each Sunday, we are a part of a presentation in the temple because each Sunday you and I show up here carrying the baggage of our lives with all its joys and pains and questions and failures—and present them to our God. We present our gifts of bread, wine, money and all the efforts of our combined ministries.
And I think our observance of this feast of the Presentation is so appropriate today as we prepare to present the work of our congregation at our annual meeting, as we present those who will serve in our leadership, as we present our gratitude for those who have served as our leaders. And as we present not only the fruits of our labors but our hopes and dreams for a faithful future together.
Like that morning in the Temple when Jesus was presented by his parents, what we do today is a very sacred event. Just as when old Simeon beheld the Messiah, it can be a life-changing force we encounter when we come together in worship.
Yes, I think God wants us to have a good time in church. In fact, I don’t think God would want it any other way.