29th February 2023
Reflection (readings follow on)
The temple was at the heart of the life of the Jewish people. It represented God’s dwelling place on earth and was the place where the priests day in day out formally worshiped God with prayers and the singing of psalms, sacrifices of animals, the burning of incense, etc. This was the chosen place for Jewish men, women and children to offer worship through prayer and through the gift of animals to be offered as sacrifices. It was where the came to celebrate the festivals of the Jewish year. It was where they came to offer prescribed sacrifices for cleansing. It was where they came to offer donations for the care of the Temple and for the care of poor. It was where lepers came to prove to the priests that they had been healed. It was here that people came to listen to and learn from learned scholars. It was here too the religious courts were daily in operation for those who sought justice.
The temple had its own staff – priests and levites, scribes and judges, guards, makers of clothes and musical instruments. There were money changers and the sellers of animals for sacrifice. There were those who mended and repaired the buildings. Those who cleaned it. There were tourists too – Gentiles who could access the outer court and colonnades and take in the grandeur and scale of the site.
As you can imagine from the time it opened each morning until it closed each evening, the temple complex was a crowded place!
In to this busy space comes just one among many families – Mary, Joseph and their 6 week old baby. Who will notice them? What could make them stand out? Yet two people do spot them, do seek them out: Simeon and Anna. Both are prompted or guided to seek out this family and their young child, for it has been revealed to them that this was not just any child but a child that was unique. This child was going to change the world. Both Simeon and Anna declared this to all who will listen. I would if we would be so attuned to God’s word or so vocal it revealing its truth?
Simeon in his outburst declares that this child, this bringer of salvation, brings salvation not just for the people of Israel but for the gentiles too. This is an all inclusive salvation that God is bringing to pass. Yet at that time the temple was divided into areas where only priests could go, areas restricted to Jewish men, areas where Jewish men and women could go but not gentiles, and then an outer area Jews and gentiles could both congregate. The salvation that Simeon foretold would transform all that. It would be a salvation in which, as Paul put it, ‘there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free, nor male and female for all are one in Christ.’
In our day and age we should challenge ourselves to revisit this all inclusive nature of salvation. There should be neither rich nor poor, neither powerful nor victimised, neither above the law nor outside the law, neither male nor female, neither homosexual nor heterosexual, neither first world nor third world, for all are one in Christ. I think we should go further, recognising how our relationship with the world around us is now understood – how dependent and interdependent all parts of creation are – to declare that there is neither human nor non human, neither wild nor domesticated, for all of creation is one in Christ.
Thus says the Lord, See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old days and as in former years.
1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
2 The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
3 Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6 They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
7 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.
8 Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.
9 For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
10 For the Lord God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
11 No good thing will the Lord withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
12 O Lord of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!
Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed– and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.