02 January 2017

Receiving the Incarnate Lord in His Temple

St. Luke clearly states, no less than four times, that everything here happens according to the Law of the Lord.  Which means, on the surface, that everything is done according to the rules and regulations of the Old Testament ceremonial Law, which the Lord gave to His people through Moses.  In faith and piety, the Holy Family thus comes to offer the sacrifices required for the purification of St. Mary forty days after she has given birth, and to pay the redemption price for her firstborn Son, Jesus, since all of the firstborn sons of Israel belong to the Lord their God.

But there is something else and something more profound at work in these rites and ceremonies.  When St. Luke writes that all is done “according to the Law of the Lord,” it is the same as we confess in the Creed, that Jesus rose from the dead “according to the Scriptures.”  That is to say that our Lord Jesus Christ fulfills the Scriptures of the Law and the Prophets — as He Himself reveals and explains to those disciples on the Road to Emmaus on that first Easter Sunday.

In what is here accomplished “according to the Law of the Lord,” it is not the “Law” in contrast to the “Gospel.”  Here the “Law” refers more broadly and comprehensively to all the Words and Promises of God.  It means His Covenant with Israel as given on Mt. Sinai, including not only the Ten Commandments but all the rites and ceremonies of the Old Testament Liturgy.  The “Law” here means the entire Word of God, both His Law and His Gospel: His Self-revelation to Israel, and the implications of His presence among them.  As this very “Word of God” has become flesh in the Person of Christ Jesus, His entire life is lived “according to the Law of the Lord.”

In the time of the Baby Jesus, as in this Holy Gospel, the Law of the Lord — all His Words and Promises, His Covenant and Liturgy — were centered in the Temple.  So does St. Luke frame his record of the Holy Gospel with the Temple.  It is where Zacharias received the Word of the Lord from the Archangel Gabriel concerning the conception and birth of his son, St. John the Baptist.  And it is where the disciples of Jesus are gathered following His Ascension into heaven.

And so it is that St. Simeon and Holy Anna are in the Temple, because they are among the faithful children of God who watch and wait for the coming of His Christ.  Their hopes and expectations are found and focused in the Temple, “according to the Law of the Lord.”  For that is where His Words and Promises have been given to them, and that is where they are now fulfilled in Jesus.

As the fire and the cloud of God’s Glory once settled on the Tabernacle in the wilderness, and then upon the Temple in Jerusalem, so does the glorious presence of God now come to His Temple in the Child born of Mary.  And by the Word and Spirit of God, Simeon and Anna comprehend with faith what their human eyes cannot perceive; that this little Babe, just six weeks old, is the Lord their God in His own flesh, who has come to be with His people and to save them from their sins.

Born of the Woman, born under the Law, that He might redeem those who were under the Law, He is Himself the fulfillment of all the Law and the Prophets.  Even from infancy, as you hear in this Holy Gospel, He keeps the Law perfectly for you and for all people.  He is ever and always obedient, even unto death on the Cross; for He has also come to sacrifice Himself in your stead.

Thus, St. Simeon prophecies that this Child is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel.  He comes, this Word-made-Flesh, bearing the grace of God and the Spirit of the Lord.  And yet, the world does not know Him, because the darkness cannot comprehend His Light.  Most of His own people refuse to receive Him; they hand Him over to be crucified by the hands of sinful men.  But it is for that Hour He has come: To sacrifice Himself in the stead of sinners, and to suffer all the punishment, death, and damnation that we poor, miserable sinners have deserved by our sins.

Thus does He obtain forgiveness and atonement for the sins of the world.  And in His Resurrection from the dead, He raises sinners in and with Himself, by and with His Word of Holy Absolution.

It is this precious Gospel of the Cross and Resurrection of our Lord Jesus that St. Simeon beholds in the face of the infant Christ-Child, by the Light of God that shines upon us in Him.  And as such, St. Simeon witnesses that this Jesus, in His own Body of flesh and blood, shall become the divine, eternal Temple of God.  For in His Flesh, all the Words and Promises of God are fulfilled forever.

“According to the Law of the Lord,” Christ Jesus comes to His people, to His faithful ones, to Simeon and Anna in the Temple.  And then by His Cross, “according to the Law of the Lord,” His own Body, crucified and risen, replaces and supercedes that Temple.  So it is that the Temple of God is truly found wherever the Word of Christ Jesus and His Body and His Blood are found.

Thus are you here today by the grace and Spirit of God: To wait upon the Lord Himself, and to receive His Body and His Blood according to His Word, here within the Temple of His Church.

Do not approach Him lightly, and do not take His presence for granted, but draw near and receive this dear Lord Jesus in the reverence and fear of repentance and in the joyful confidence of faith.

And as you come and go from His Altar, take your cues from Simeon and Anna, who received the same Lord Jesus Christ in His Temple, and held the same Body of Christ in their arms.  They did so with thanksgiving, praise, and blessing to His Name.  So join with St. Simeon in chanting his inspired song of praise, the Nunc Dimittis, and follow the example of Holy Anna in giving thanks unto the Lord with all your words and actions, and in speaking of Him to your neighbors.

There are no more important activities with which to serve your Lord and God and Savior, Jesus Christ, both night and day, all the years of your life, and forever.  But as you receive the Lord here in His Temple, and as you return all thanks and praise to Him, so do you grow and increase in His Spirit, and so are you filled with His Wisdom.  Thus may the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God the Father, and the Communion of His Holy Spirit, be and abide with you all. Amen.

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