The Presentation of Christ in the Temple
This sermon focuses on events when Christ as a 40 day old baby is taken to Jerusalem. This Anglican Festival – also known as the Purification of Mary – marks the official end of Epiphany. The Gospel serves as a bridge – the infant Jesus, the recognition of who he was, and so continuing the themes of Christmas and Epiphany. But also the words to Mary of her suffering and of what Jesus ministry would bring to Israel, points us to Lent and especially Holy Week…
January 29th 2017.
Do you remember when your son or daughter was 40 days old – what happened? Who was there? What they said? Do you remember? Me, I can completely remember – well, no!!!! Luke, in all his research and time spent meeting the men and women who met, saw and heard Jesus, he heard from a mother who did – Mary – who shares about two elderly witnesses in Jerusalem on the 40th day of her first son’s life.
Painting by Ambrogio Lorenzetti – The Presentation in the Temple.
Anna is the character on the far right of the painting. (c14th century)
Mary and Joseph had brought Jesus to the temple to perform the purification rites and also to present her son, to the Lord in keeping with the law. She meets Simeon – whose words, (‘the Nunc Dimittis’), have been used in worship across the world but I want to focus on Anna. Luke includes her, he wants us to be inspired, formed by her. And three verses is all we have!
I want to share what many scholars note is the parallelism that Luke seems to employ in his gospel, where he records the roles of men and women. And in the chapters we heard at Christmas – a birth is announced to a man – Zechariah (Luke 1), a birth announced to a woman – Mary (Luke 1); a song of praise from a Woman (‘the Magnificat’), a song of praise from a man, (‘the Benedictus’). And in the temple visit, two witnesses – a man and a woman. The two alongside to complement each other…
Anna’s role / ministry.
Anna is a prophetess. The only lady to explicitly have that title given to her in the NT. In Acts, Philip has 4 daughters who prophesise but here Anna is described in a line of women which includes the Old Testament judge, military leader and prophetess Deborah, the unnamed wife of Isaiah, called a Prophetess (Isaiah 8) and Huldah – the prophetess to whom King Josiah sends a delegation when the Book of the Law of God is found in the temple, (2 Kings 22:v8-20). Why record her designation, her role? The family have not gone to her as a prophet, she has met them.
The significance of this word – ‘prophetess’. Firstly remember what we heard of Simeon – the Spirit is upon him. In the Old Testament the Spirit was with people for particular tasks for particular times. So, prophets, leaders, kings, the judges, people like Gideon and Samson. There are craftsmen gifted to build the items for the tabernacle. The Spirit would give insight, wisdom, prophetic speech, inspire praise or worship, and also could give power to bring liberty from oppression. So in one manner, Simeon is like the examples in the Old Testament. So is Anna – she is a prophetess and the Spirit rests on people for particular people for certain tasks. Now when we read about Simeon, our attention is grabbed because we see the Spirit at work in a similar way to what we read in Acts don’t we? The Spirit upon him, and he is moved by the Spirit, he listens to the voice of the Spirit. And then Luke shares about Anna, for she walks in that same path – she is a charismatic woman in her 80s, she is a prophetess. So, I’d suggest, what we have is Luke, as he writes to Theophilus and other Christians, we have looking back and looking forward. The old era, the Spirit given to certain people at certain times, and looking forward – for when Christians hear this scripture, the early church, churches of the epistles – such as Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 12-14), Ephesians (see Ephesians 4:7-16) which declare the gift of prophecy and states about the ministries of the church of apostles, evangelists, pastors, teachers and prophets. The readers / listeners see someone who recognises who Jesus is, praises God, and tells others and she is a prophet. She is a reminder that these ministries would be given and exist inside the church and also she becomes an example of what it means to be a true prophetess, of her character and faith…
Anna is described as from the tribe of Asher. No statement is made of Simeon’s ancestry. In a week when where you are from has received a significant amount of attention this week in the Trump administration – which has of course followed the themes that were in Brexit and perhaps these themes may appear in the upcoming elections here…Asher was one of the 10 tribes in the northern kingdom. The northern kingdom was taken into exile under Assyria. However, not everyone was taken away. After Hezekiah purifies the temple (2 Chron 30) he sends messengers throughout the devastated areas of what was the northern kingdom and to Judah inviting all who remain to a Passover celebration. Bible says many ridiculed the messengers when they came to the peoples in the north, but it also says “some from Asher, Manasseh and Zebulun humbled themselves and went to Jerusalem.” Perhaps Anna’s ancestors were some of those people. But her name says, I’d suggest, the Messiah has not just come from the tribe of Judah, and come just to the people of Judah – who Zechariah, Mary, Joseph, probably the shepherds too. No, he has come to and for all the people of all Israel – for all the Jewish people, regardless of their tribal background.
Anna’s personal story.
Anna is a lady of age. She was widowed after being married for 7 years and she is either now 84 or the Greek can also, logically say, she was widowed for 84 years, making her 103 years old or so. She was widowed. She suffered at a young age – in her 20s – the loss of a husband. And she never married again. She did not enjoy children, grandchildren, or golden anniversaries. I remember chatting to a great friend of mine, a few years ago and she said that by the time we get to our age – that was late 30s, we often have experienced loss. But in your early 20s? With your whole life before you, it changes forever, never the same. Anna was in a place of darkness. We do not know how long or how she coped – but she was in the valley of the shadow of death. But when we read her piety – praying, fasting, her praises – her faith is vibrant, alive, beautiful. She has come to a place of healing and peace. It reminds me of the reality that all of us will face. When death comes, how what will the effect upon our faith and life as that darkness comes. I am not going to say how it should go, but rather my feelings about how we, as a church community could be, when those around us, go through it. Maybe our role will be to encourage our friends in the faith, maybe it will be, to be quiet, our presence will be what is needed, a huge. You know one of the best examples of loving car – a guy called Mike – I had lost someone dear to me when I was 26, and at theological college, I was talking to the administrator who was saying how sorry they were and Mike just came along, paused, put his hand on my shoulder, looked, said nothing and I knew he cared, he was there praying, he was so sorry and… he didn’t need to say … you know as I get older, I realise more and more that my role is a privileged one as many people will share things and ask me to walk with them in dark times. That is part of my calling. But you know it is calling on us all – to be a Mike, to be someone there, to help those in the dark places – like Anna experienced in her 20s. That is part of being a Deep community. Anna is someone who comes through it – maybe it was quite short, maybe it was quite long. Anna comes through her darkness to a place of strong faith vibrant bright – we have that hope for all of us who go through personal darkness…
You know, for some of us here, maybe we are in that dark place, and we are trying to keep it together – it is okay – we will walk with you helping you, walking with you until you come through that valley of darkness… Liverpool Football Club had as one of their club anthems: ‘You’ll never walk alone…’
Stadium Gate at Anfield, Liverpool Football Club. By Göran Jönsson – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, httpscommons.wikimedia.orgwindex.phpcurid=29756588
Some of the anthem’s words:
When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high And don’t be afraid of the dark At the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky …
Walk on, walk on With hope in your hearts
And you’ll never walk alone You’ll never walk alone
Deep Community means we will never let anyone walk alone in the dark…
Anna’s piety – that vibrant faith – is expressed through her regular presence at the temple, not just to make offerings but to be at prayer, to regularly fast. While Simeon is led into the temple, she is always there at the temple. And because she is there, at the very moment of Simeon’s words – that is a God incidence I’d say. Do we call it luck? Nope, it is a God inspired meeting – and to close, we note what happens, when Anna meets Mary and Joseph..
She gives thanks to God and she does what else, she witnesses. Ben Witherington III New Testament scholar raises an interesting idea – Simeon has seen the Messiah, he is now prepared to die ( Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your serant in peace.)”Anna approaches the Holy Family, she recognises Jesus as the Messiah she thanks and praises God but her next reaction is different – she doesn’t want to die, she wants to proselytise, to evangelise to witness. Like the disciples who will follow her in Jerusalem, 30 years later, she cannot help speaking about what she has seen and heard (Peter, Acts 4:v18-20). The mother Mary was the first woman to have the good news proclaimed to her, can we say that Anna is the first to understand fully who Jesus was? And so she is the first in line of disciples who speak to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem, its deliverance by a deliverer.
So Anna becomes an incredible challenge. What do you want to be in life? Do we finish the race well? I look at Anna – 84, maybe much older – and she asks us, what do you want to be when you are old? When life has thrown a lot at you. When friends are passing away. When loved ones have died. Do you want to be like Anna – charismatic, open to the workings of the Spirit, a lady who has peace in her pain, who is vibrant in her faith, shining brightly, full of thanksgiving full of praise and who is not waiting to die but wants to proselytise? To end the race well. Paul says: “the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge will aware to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”
Her role – prophetess, charismatic example.
Her tribe – Asher, Christ comes for all regardless of how history and society views them;
Her life story – a long life where she walked through the valley of the shadow of death;
Her vibrant faith – despite her experience of pain, her faith burns bright; her praise, her witness – she does not want to die but to evangelise.
Closing Prayer (the Anglican Prayer used on the Festival of the Presentation of Christ in the temple)
Almighty and ever-living God,
clothed in majesty,
whose beloved Son was presented in the Temple,
in substance of our flesh:
grant that we may be presented to you
with pure and clean hearts,
by your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.
By Revd Grant Crowe