When I was in Tasmania last year, my son and his wife arranged a ceremony in which they presented their newborn Son to God, through the arms of another couple of Salvation Army officers.
It was a lovely ceremony in which Davey was handed over to David and Sarah, soon to be officers in the Salvation Army. David and Sarah held Davey, said a prayer of blessing over him and then gave him back to his parents. Not all that different from what we do – but without water. They even had God Parents.
Our Gospel text today is generally referred to as The Presentation of Jesus at the Temple. We read it recently – on the Sunday after Christmas to mark the naming and circumcision of Jesus a week after his birth. This is an event that marks the act of purification women can take 40 days after the birth of a child. We don’t much like those ideas these days, but it is interesting that in the Bible the number 40 comes up again and again, and generally relates to a period of formation. We will start another one soon – Lent or the 40 days before Easter.
There are many layers of meaning in this story from which we can take our thoughts – the challenge always is what shall we consider today?
Let’s start with a question: How do we respond to being in the presence of God?
When we think of the word “Presentation” which we use as part of the title for this story, we think of a number of situations where what you see is less important than what lies behind it. When I went to the doctor, presenting with unbearable pain in my right leg that does not respond to the normal physiotherapy or medicines, he looked deeper into things and found a tumour in my spine – in the middle of my back. I had no pain in my back.
So, when this little baby boy was “presented” in the temple some of the other key people in the story saw more than just a baby boy.
Simeon, the old man who spent a great deal of time in the Temple courts immediately recognised more than just a baby. As his first response he gave thanks to God. He recognised he was in the presence of the Promised One and he thanked God for it. Simeon had been living in expectation of meeting this One on the strength of God’s promise to him.
Then he blessed Joseph and Mary and gave Mary a word of knowledge about the future that lay ahead of her son. In some ways there was a sense of foreboding in this. The suffering and trouble he announced was not really good news, was it?
Then there was that other old person, Anna, the prophetess. She also recognised that this was more than just your everyday little boy. She recognised that he was the Promised One, and like Simeon, she praised God, but she did more. She told everyone who would listen to her about this child.
Now these events were not without an effect on Joseph and Mary. They were amazed by what both Simeon and Anna had said and I am sure that it deepened their natural sense of love for their first-born child.
So, let’s go back to my opening question: How do we respond to being in the presence of God?
You have come here today to be in the presence of God. Well, I have to tell you, God is here.
Did you come expecting to hear something from God about something that is a particular worry for you?
Did you come hoping that you would catch a glimpse of God?
Did you come with a sense of thanksgiving for what you have already experienced of God?
Did you come here as an expression of love and joy in what you have already experienced of God?