May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Among Lutherans in America there appears to be a definite allergy to anything Roman Catholic. As soon as a whiff of Papism is detected Lutherans raise the shield wall and bunker down for battle. Even the word “Catholic” is usually said with a little vinegar in the mouth as if it were repulsive to even say. And on a day like today, the Feast of the Purification of Mary and Presentation of Jesus, I worry that our Catholic allergy may get the best of us. Yes we are Lutherans, and yes, we are celebrating a feast day, in small part, about Mary and her work, but don’t panic! Everything is going to be okay.
The feast of the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Jesus goes back all the way to the 5th century and as such is much older than Roman Catholicism and the worship, I mean, veneration of Mary. In addition, this feast is chosen for the season of Epiphany for a reason. It’s more traditional name is Candlemas, because, as our readings and season allude to, God is revealing himself to his people. He is enlightening them and revealing to them who he is and what he’s about. In this light, this feast day is really not about Mary or Hannah, but about the Crucified Christ and who he is for you.
At first glance our OT reading seems to be the story of Hannah, who is truly a miraculous character in her own right, but in light of the cross, the story of Hannah takes on a different shape. Barrenness in view of the cross, is a story of death and resurrection. Hannah’s womb is devoid of life and she suffers all the shame and ridicule that the David sings of in Psalm 22. Surrounded by enemies on every side, abandoned by God, and left with no other options than to call on the LORD. She is a woman crushed and afflicted, but one on whom God has mercy (Ex 33:19). Year after year Hannah prayed and waited on God, and at just the right time, God answers her prayers. At the right time He sends a son of promise, born of a woman, and born under the Law, for the redemption and forgiveness of those trapped under the Law (Gal 4:4-5), and his name is Samuel. In the midst of death and darkness, God brings life and light ex nihilo, from nothing (Gn 1:2). This seems to be a pattern with God.
Our second reading today adds another layer to our Epiphany season, to how God has chosen to reveal himself in Christ. Not only is Christ the Son of promise for the redemption of the people and service of God, but he is also a child who does this by sharing in our flesh and blood (Hb 2:14). In fact the writer of Hebrews says that Christ is made like us in every single way; that Jesus is a human in body and soul, he is the offspring of Abraham, and has experienced all that we experience. In every way he was tempted, suffered fear, and death itself (Hb 2:17). The early church father Gregory Nazianzus famously confessed in defense of the church that “whatever is not assumed is not redeemed” and in Christ everything is assumed. Despite the attempts of ancient heretics who tried to leave some part out so that God would maintain his honor and not defile himself with the ickiness of humanity, Christ assumes your all in all. Christ does not take on an angelic form or any other form than a human one because it is for humanity that he lives and for humanity that he dies (Hb 2:16).
Which answers the great why of this text that theologians have wondered about for centuries. Why did God become man? Luther and the author of Hebrews agree the answer is quite simple: For you! So that he might become a merciful and faithful highpriest in the service of God on your behalf, so that all your sins would be taken away (Hb 2:17). This is why God has chosen to reveal himself in this human form and how he is our light in darkness, not for any rational reason, but for the most irrational, namely because he loves you.
But this is not all. Our Gospel for today shows us that Christ, our child of promise and light in the darkness, goes so deep into our humanity that he gets to the very root. Not only does he assume our flesh and blood, our temptation, our fear, our frailty, and our death, but he also assumes our sin and the Law which accuses and condemns us. At 8 days old, God in Christ is already shedding his blood for our salvation (Lk 2:21). In his circumcision, he is already the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and submits himself to the laws demands and terrors. At 40 days old this persists (Lk 2:22-24,39). The God of Israel once again stands in the temple, but this time, instead of demanding a sacrifice, giving himself as the sacrifice. Though he is rightfully Lord of the Law, he submits himself to the Law. And so we find that before Jesus could speak his first words, he stands before the throne of God interceding for us, taking our punishment, bearing our sin, and suffering all the demands of the Law on our behalf.
Which again begs the question of why God assumes even the burden of the Law. Luther’s answer yet again: for you! Because fastbound in Satan’s chains we lay and death brooded darkly o’er us. Sin was our torment night and day because in sin our mother bore us (LSB 556). But mindful of his mercies great God says to his Son, “it’s time to have compassion.” Be their child of promise, their redemption, and servant. Be their brother in flesh and blood, fear and temptation, suffering and death. Be like them in every way so that you can be their merciful and faithful highpriest and radically forgive the sins of the whole world. Be their light in the darkness, and their life in the midst of their death. Be theirs so they can be mine.
In the same way God gave his Son in the flesh for the sins of the world 2,000 years ago, today in this place God once again comes into his temple and he has prepared for you this day, his Son in body and blood so that you may partake of the wedding feast of the last day and so that your eyes would behold your salvation. So that you would receive and believe that your sins have been taken away, your death is no more, and the voice of the Law is silenced. You are no longer slaves, but children. No longer in darkness, but have seen the light. No longer estranged from God, but presented to him pure and blameless in Christ Jesus. Amen.
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, our Savior. Amen.