Friends, today it is our great joy to celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple.
Think of all the major events in the life of Jesus: His birth at Christmas, His baptism, His death, resurrection and ascension. Of all these milestones, His Presentation in the Temple may seem to be the most foreign and puzzling - and so the least ‘relevant’ to us.
But to disregard this day would be a great mistake because this event is deeply necessary in the life of Christ and so for our Christian lives here today.
So what happens in this story? First, Jesus is devoted to the LORD by His parents in the Jerusalem Temple as an offering for the first-fruit of Mary’s womb; and secondly, Mary – as all Israelite women were expected to do after childbirth - needed to wait a period of 40 days and then present an offering for her purification from the flow of blood given during the birth of her child. In both cases here, Mary as a devout Jew, is carefully obedient to the Law of Moses.
What are we to make of all this? And how on earth does it apply to our lives?
Both of these laws, I think, are about the need for human holiness, for sanctity – for being set apart for God. Now, I must say, I've found that this word 'holiness' often makes people uncomfortable. For some reason, it's come to have a negative connotation, perhaps because we think it calls us to an impossibly high standard of behaviour. It's a word that seems crushingly burdensome.
So I must clarify: what does it mean to be holy? Holiness of life is not, first and foremost, about our own integrity, uprightness and good works – necessary though these are. Holiness is rather about God coming close to us, making His dwelling with us, so that He can be seen through us. Holiness is about making God the absolute centre of your life, it's about knowing that your life is not your own, but that you belong completely to God in Jesus Christ.
What you say, what you desire, how you react to things, what you hope for, how you work and use your gifts and money and time – all of this and more must be continuously presented to the LORD and purified. In the words of the old hymn: ‘Take my life and let it be / consecrated Lord to thee.’ Now I will grant to the objectors of holiness that this is indeed a high standard, one that we continuously fail to achieve.
But you see, if our lives are to be presented and consecrated to God in this way, He must first be presented to us - and so He is here today.
So as we see Jesus presented in the Temple today, we are to see Him as being presented to ourselves – to our own souls and bodies. In the words of St. Paul: Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Today Christ is presented to us by the Holy Spirit, so that we, like Simeon, can take Him up in our arms by faith, and see in Him the fulfillment of our deepest longings, the very purpose of our lives, the One in whom we find rest and peace.
Today, through His Word and in this Holy Communion, the LORD whom you seek suddenly comes to His temple; and He will purify and refine your heart, soul, mind and body, so that you may offer your entire life in righteousness to the LORD.
‘And here we offer and present unto thee, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy and living sacrifice unto thee.’ May that be so this day and every day and every moment of our lives. Amen.