February 2, 2023

Sermon – Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Jerusalem Temple

Pastoral Sermon
Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Jerusalem Temple
February 2, 2023

With the celebration of this Feast our Lord of our Lord’s Presentation in the Jerusalem Temple, we can have a better understanding of a change that was the beginning of a transformation of the nature of worship through Christ's participation in the worship of the Old Covenant. Christ was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem by His parents and was offered, met by Simeon, the elder, and the prophetess, Anna. It is a sign and beginning of the revelation of grace upon grace that was to come in the worship of the New Covenant of Christ’s Blood; as He becomes for all of humankind the perfect Offering that saves, and is for us today experienced in the Holy Eucharist, the offering of His very Body and Blood; for which we offer thanks.
St. Simeon who receives the Christ Child, offered by Mary and Joseph, blesses what becomes for us Christians our eucharistic worship, our offering of thanks, that moves us beyond the Old Covenant sacrifices of burnt offerings.
As we have been discovering in our Bible Study on the Book of Genesis, the human race had worshipped God with the thankful offering of sacrifices as an expression of fear. Bulls and goats were laid upon altars, offerings of grain and libations of wine were poured out by trembling supplicants before the powers of divinity. These offerings were only a percentage, or a portion of their best possessions. However, it was a mere substitute for their souls, what we call offerings of thanksgiving and “atonement,” through the fires of sacrifice. In the same way, on this day, we are presented with the image of the humble new parents from Bethlehem bring an offering of two doves (Luke 2:24) as their offering to the God of Israel.
But something new happens that marks the end of the era of animal sacrifice and the beginning of New Covenant worship. From this Feast we learn the meaning of what is said in our offering of the bread and wine in the Divine Liturgy: "Thine Own of Thine Own we offer to Thee." For the offering to God on this Feast is God Himself in the flesh. And by what He accomplishes in His broken body and spilt blood belongs to Him alone, who in His own person establishes the reconciliation of God and man with the forgiveness of sins. He is “The Lamb of God” who “takes away the sins of the world”
The Mother of God, who is the supreme figure (icon) of the Church, and who also was presented at the Temple by her parents: Zachariah & Elizabeth, and who was received by the priest Zacharias and taken into the Holy of Holies; now places Christ in the hands of the elder Simeon and she receives Him back again. It is a foreshadowing of our own worship at every Divine Liturgy.
Like Simeon, every Orthodox priest receives Christ into his hands under the form of the amnos—The Lamb of God. [He also receives this Gift at the time of his ordination, when the Church, who is the Mother of us all, by the hand of her bishop places into his palms the bread that is consecrated to be the Body of our Lord Jesus Christ.] Like Simeon, therefore, every priest bears up Christ within the holy place—at the altar, with voice lifted up to bless the Most High God (see Luke 2:28). And like Simeon, the priest comes from the holy place to impart Christ back to the Church, to distribute His all-pure Body and Blood to the faithful, for the forgiveness of sins, and for life everlasting.
In the one glorious moment of Christ’s presentation at the Temple, the righteous Simeon beheld the revelation of God's plan of salvation in the face of the forty-day old child in his arms. He foresaw the end of blood sacrifices on altars of stones; He understood that the Son of God forever lives to make intercession for us (cf. Hebrews 7:25), to be both the Offerer and the Offering, the One who receives and is distributed to His people throughout the world. And having seen the revelation, Simeon believed, and therefore he spoke these words: "Mine eyes have seen your salvation,” a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel" (Luke 2:30, 32).
And so, the scene of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple contains the very center of our New Testament worship. No longer do we come to God's temple in fear bearing offerings of dead animals. Now we present a living sacrifice through the Eucharist in the person of the Son of God, who is with us whenever we are gathered together in His Name (Matthew 18:20, 28:20), and Who is given back to us, so that we too may become living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12:1).
Consequently, each one of us becomes another Simeon when we receive Christ in the person of the poor and needy, the sick and dying, the widows and orphans: whenever, in other words, we receiving the least of our brethren as though they were Christ Himself. It is our Eucharistic task, our offering of thanks, our good work—liturgy after the Liturgy, to embrace them, to bring them into the Church, and to announce the good news of God’s love, mercy, and His forgiveness. In doing this we transform every human encounter, every meeting with another person, another part of our worship: Presentation of Christ, in order that at the end of our life's calling, may we too also be inspired to say,
"My eyes, Lord, have seen your salvation. I have seen your light to the nations. I have seen the glory of your people . . . their consolation, and their redemption."
May Christ our True God, who condescended to be carried in the arms of the righteous Simeon for our salvation, bless and strengthen us, remember us in His kingdom, unto ages of ages. Amen.