SERMON FOR THE PURIFICATION OF MARY &
THE PRESENTATION OF OUR LORD, 2-2-2020
LUTHER MEMORIAL CHAPEL
Pastor Michael Larson
Today is February 2nd and it’s a big day. In fact, for many, it’s the biggest day of the year – the Superbowl. For those living in the secular calendar it’s their high feast, every year, even falling on a Sunday. They’ll gather around the TV with unhealthy food and drink, and watch about two hours of advertisements for products and services they don’t need, and they’ll catch some football as well.
If that’s not your thing, today also happens to be Groundhog Day. 40,000 spectators make the pilgrimage to a small little town in western Pennsylvania called Punxsutawney. And they all gather around a semi-mythical groundhog named Punxsutawney Phil. And you know how it goes. If he emerges from his hole this morning and sees his shadow (due to bright/clear weather), he’ll retreat to his den and winter is said to go on for another six weeks or so. If he doesn’t see his shadow, then spring comes early. Or so they say!
Needless to say, and as one might expect, the studies have all been conducted on this, and surprise, surprise! - there’s actually no correlation whatsoever between a groundhog seeing its shadow and the arrival of spring weather.
So where did Groundhog Day come from? Well, it’s actually comes from the Germans. It’s got to be the Germans, right! Except for their forecasting they preferred the badger instead, and called the day “Dachstaf,” that is, “badger day.” The saying was, “If the badger sunbathes on Candlemas, for six weeks more he’ll be back in his hole,” although it actually rhymes and sounds catchy in German.
What’s interesting is that Groundhog Day or badger day is celebrated 40 days after Christmas. And this is no coincidence! Candlemas Day, otherwise known as the Purification of Mary, which we celebrate today, is the day we remember the Lord brought to the temple, 40 days old, to offer the prescribed sacrifice.
In the church, this day is traditionally known as Candlemas. It’s a day when all the candles used in church services and at the home altar were blessed, and lit, and carried in procession. This day that we celebrate today, forty days after Christmas, was a celebration of light. Right smack-dab in the midst of the cold dark depths of winter. All when folks in the northern hemisphere are longing for more daylight.
It was a celebration of light which ultimately pointed to Christ who is Himself the light of the world. And this is welcome news. Because sinful man lives in a dark hole himself – the darkness of sin, the condemnation of the devil, with death covering him. And so we call on Christ, our Savior, to disperse the clouds of sadness that hang over us – and to call us out of darkness into His marvelous light. So light and darkness, shadows and daylight, no surprise that Groundhog Day and this day, Candlemas, intersect!
As I said, today is a big day. Football, weather-predicting rodents, even wax candles potentially might distract or confuse us, or draw our eyes toward the wrong stuff. So consider the eyes of Simeon in our Gospel this morning! He’s likely an old man, but there are no cataracts or cloudiness in his eyes, because they’re focused on the right stuff – the babe in Mary’s arms. Simeon, had been promised by God that he wouldn’t taste death until he had seen with his own eyes the Lord’s Christ.
In today’s reading, Mary and Joseph come to the temple to bring an offering, an offering commanded in the Law, for the life of every firstborn belonged to the Lord and so had to be redeemed, calling to mind the Exodus from Egypt.
They purchased and brought two turtledoves, the offering of the poor, but the true offering they carried in their arms was not the birds but the babe. They had the true Lamb, the Offering to end all offerings. The sacrifice to end all sacrifice – the end of the Law – the remission of sins. The Christ. The Savior. The light of the world.
So today’s a big day – an important day. And I’m not talking about football or groundhogs. We’re talking about the Creator of the whole world Himself becoming a creature to redeem us. Malachi the prophet predicted this incredible moment when he wrote that the Lord would “suddenly come to his temple.” This is a line from Handel’s Messiah that is bursting with joy!
The joy of salvation. Because even though this birth was a virgin birth, a miraculous, holy and sinless birth needing no purification, no redemption, they go anyway. Why? For us, to see what Simeon sees. To see Christ showing up as the very fulfilment of the Law. Obediently coming to His own temple to show Himself as redeemer. His coming to the temple on the 40th day, the shedding of blood, and His hanging on the cross teach us and show us that He is the atoning sacrifice for sins. He is our purification. Our cleansing sacrifice. The forgiveness of sins.
So when this baby, 40 days old, is brought to the temple, the Holy Spirit whispers something truly wonderful to Simeon – “There He is! There’s the Christ! There’s the promised one!” This is the moment old Simeon had been waiting for. He crosses that temple courtyard, arms outstretched, reaching out for that child. And he takes the Lord up in his arms and prays a beauty: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace. Mine eyes have seen thy salvation. A light for the gentiles and glory for your people Israel!”
This morning I want you to just imagine having that amazing privilege of Simeon and holding in your arms the Word made flesh! Just imagine holding in your hands the very one who held you in His before you were even born! Well, this is the thing! You don’t have to imagine that at all because that’s just what happens to you! Every Lord’s Day! At every Divine Service!
We come to God’s temple, His holy church. And the Holy Spirit whispers in our ears, “There He is! There’s the Christ, and right where He’s promised to be!” Because in those words of absolution, there, Christ is speaking to me. And there He is at the font, in the water and the word that saves. There He is – the Lamb on the altar. Given and shed for me. We cross the temple court, like Simeon, up to the chancel and altar. We reach out and actually cradle Jesus in the Sacrament, take Him in our arms, just like Simeon. His body joined to ours – His blood mingling with ours – purifying us – making us radiant and holy. The treasures of the cross – all distributed here and now – for us – and for our redemption!
Then we sing Simeon’s song. Let me depart in peace. Let me go home. This morning Simeon helps train our eyes to zero in on all the right stuff. After all, no need to wait on Punxsutawney Phil to come out of his den for a faulty weather report! Not when we’ve got Christ, the risen one, up from the tomb of death, bringing life and immortality to light! Like Simeon, we can rejoice, give thanks, and face death unafraid when our time comes. Knowing that only He, and He alone, can usher in spring and eternal summer. In the name of Jesus. Amen.