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“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

How old are we?  We value our history, yet we often forget how old we really are.  We think of the past ten years here and the founding of this parish thirty-two years ago.  We think of the independence of the Episcopal Church in the late Eighteenth Century and the first Mass at Jamestown in the early Seventeenth Century.  We think of the Reformation, the Great Schism, the Ecumenical Councils, and the early Church.

But we go much further back.  The Temple Christ was presented in was built in 516 B.C., twenty-five hundred years ago, and there had been another Temple before that, and the Law had been given centuries before that.  We and our spiritual ancestors have been worshipping the Lord our God for well over three thousand years.

Christians value what is old.  The blessing of candles was added to our celebration of this feast a full thousand years ago.  The events of this feast described in the Gospel happened two thousand years ago.  Both Simeon and Anna were quite elderly and waited for many years to behold the Christ.  Christ was presented to the Temple and the Blessed Virgin Mary was purified according to the ancient Law of Moses.

We do not throw away our old customs and people here.  Indeed, our young are expected to follow in the elder ways, just like our older folk are.  We are not interested in changing with the times.  We are interested in remaining faithful to our Lord.  Christ, Who transformed history and the world by coming into the world, submitted Himself to Law and the customs of the Chosen People again and again.  As it says in Proverbs xxii.28:  “Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.”

It is from this deep connection to the goodness and glory of God shining in the past that we take the light of Christ out into the world today.

When you drive a golf ball, hit a hockey puck, or throw a football, you bring your club, your stick, your arm back to whip it forward for great effect.  We draw strength from the past as we live the Gospel in this present day.  We join in with the prophets, patriarchs, and saints of more than three thousand years when we proclaim Holy Scripture, live in loving-kindness, and show forth the light of Christ into the world right outside those red doors.

 

This connection with the past is a particularly Jewish and Christian concern, for ours is a religion of history.  History doesn’t matter with the moon god or Buddha.  Christ was born on a particular day and presented to the Temple forty days afterward.  History matters for us.

The earliest Christian heretic, Marcion, made the first formal canon of Scripture, in which he cut out the entire Old Testament and most of the New.  Marcion’s heresy held that the God of the Old Testament was not the God of the New Testament.

But the Son of God was present at the creation of the world.  The Son of God sent the God the Holy Ghost to speak to the prophets.  The Son of God was born a baby in Bethlehem and was given the name Jesus.  Marcion taught some kind of religion, but that religion was not Christianity.

For Christianity is the renewal of the Jewish religion for all people, under the Messiah, the Christ.  As St. Paul says in Galatians iv.4:  Christ was “born of a woman, born under the law, that he might redeem those under the law.”  St. Paul, who is the Apostle to the Gentiles, was very clear that Christ came first for the Jews.  Indeed, Christ Himself stated this exact same thing.

Christ completes the Law, and the New Covenant completes the Old.  If you look in the Prayer Book or your bulletin, you will see that this feast is called both the Presentation and the Purification.

The Purification and the Presentation both derive from the birth of Christ by the Blessed Virgin Mary, a singular act of our salvation intimately involving the two greatest figures of our salvation.  And both of them obey the Law of Moses in the circumcision, the presentation, and the purification.  Christ and St. Mary both fulfill the Law.  They are both good Jews.

 

Christ fulfilled all righteousness when His Body, the new temple, was presented into the old Temple.  We have absolutely 100% continuity with the Jews of old.  By our entrance into the death and resurrection of Christ in Holy Baptism, we are joined with Christ and made members of Him.  We, who are not born Jews and part of the Old Covenant, are joined with Christ our Lord and made, in effect, into Jews through Him.

Through the outward cultic sacrifices of the Temple, we who are joined with Christ now offer spiritual sacrifices through the new Temple, His Body.  As you have seen today, we continue this cultic presence of the Old Testament with our Christian worship which includes incense, priests, Scripture readings, and the Ten Commandments.

Christ’s first desire was to save the Jews.  Saving the Gentiles is secondary, especially in the sense that it relies upon God’s redeeming work in Israel.  God’s salvation of Israel prepares and spills over graciously into the Gentile part of humanity.  Salvation comes through the Jews.  Any denial of this perverts the ministry of Christ into something unscriptural and unchristian, a thing for anti-Semites and the heretic Marcion.

We who are not born into the covenant of Israel are not God’s second choice, exactly, but it was not through us that God wrought salvation in our fallen world.  It is through the Jews that salvation has come to us all.

Have you been a staunch member of this parish a long time?  Are you of a good family?  Are you among the wealthy?  Know that no matter how superior your social position is in this society at large or in this parish in particular, you are a sojourner, an immigrant, a newcomer; you are an undeserving recipient of God’s free grace.  As the old saying goes, we are beggars telling other beggars where to find a meal.  God raised up Israel to be set apart from all the rest of the world, and from the tribe of Judah did God the Father send His only-begotten Son of God to be born of a daughter of Jacob, Mary Ever-Virgin.  Through the Jews did salvation come, and from the Jews has come “a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel”.

 

We who are Baptized have died and risen again in Christ.  We are no longer part of the world.  God calls us out of the world.  As Christians, we are part of something far grander than the things of this world.  Christ has gone before us and made us citizens of Heaven.  This world is crumbling away, and there is no stopping it.  We have been saved from it, and we are being saved from it.

We read in Isaiah viii.15:  “And many among them shall stumble, and fall, and be broken, and be snared, and be taken.”  Christ will be – and was – and yet remains – “unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness”.  Christ divides men one from another.  He says in St. Matthew x.34:  “For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.”

This sinful world is a tough place.  But God is tougher.  God the Son can take all the blasphemies and humiliations we can give Him and still defeat sin and death.  This Presentation of Christ to the Temple, along with the Circumcision and the finding of the boy Christ in the Temple, shows that there is more to Christ’s early life than angels and animals and mangers.  Today’s feast points us towards Golgotha … and beyond.  In the wisdom of Holy Mother Church, today we grow close to the Pre-Lenten season.

The finest and swankiest people of Israel would have no doubt sagged in dismay if they had known the true nature of the gentle infant carried that day through the streets of Jerusalem.  Years later, those same people and kinds of people shouted “crucify Him” to that same babe in that same city.  Christ upset, literally overturned, the sinful nature of the world.  Those who had grown comfortable in and profited from this fallen world would suffer as a result of the coming salvation.

Christ challenges the prejudices of those who rule this world.  Christ’s witness of loving-kindness and obedience to God the Father smells of rebellion to the authorities of this world.  Christ spent much of His ministry on earth with the poor commoners of Judea.  Perhaps He knew them better because God the Son came down from Heaven into a family that had to offer the pauper’s sacrifice of two turtledoves at His Presentation to the Temple.

One Herod killed a region full of little boys to try to suppress Christ’s Advent.  Another Herod decapitated St. John Baptist at a banquet.  The Roman governor Pilate washed his hands clean of Christ.  The rich and powerful and well-heeled of this world did not welcome Christ.  And of course they would not.  They wanted to kill Him.  He was willing to die for them.  That’s the biggest difference in the world.

 

Would we strive for holiness?  Would we love our Lord and each other?  Would we be a light to the world?  Let us reach out to our Lord Christ.  Let us throw ourselves and our brokenness, our alienation, our sinful thoughts, and our wicked acts onto his broken and bruised back and let Him carry us.  Let us change our habits and our ways to fit with the new world of grace and loving-kindness which Christ brings down to us from Heaven.  Let us carry Christ in our hearts out into the world.

 

“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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“…when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Because we are sons”

 

Regarding the readings or lections for Christmas Day and the Sunday after Christmas, Fr. John Henry Blunt wrote:

“On the one day, the Son of God is shewn to us becoming the Son of Man: on the other, the sons of men are shewn to us becoming the sons of God, through the Adoption won for them by the Holy Child Jesus.  We are “heirs of God through Christ,” because of the fulfilment of the promise conveyed by His Name, “He shall save His people from their sins.”

Our adoption as sons of God happens because of Christ.  Christ is God the Son Who has taken on Flesh and is born of a woman.  Because of Christ’s Incarnation, we can have the Spirit of God in our hearts and call God the Father, Abba, or father.

 

So let’s look at today’s lesson from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians in the fourth chapter, beginning with verses 1-3:

“1 Now I say, That the heir, as long as he is a child, differeth nothing from a servant, though he be lord of all;

2 But is under tutors and governors until the time appointed of the father.

3 Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world:”

Before Christ came into the world, there were pretty much only two sorts of people.  There were the chosen people of God, the Jews, and there were those who did not worship the one true God, the pagans.  St. Paul describes both of them as being held “in bondage under the elements of the world.”

God treated the Jews as his chosen race, but he treated them mostly like quarrelsome children.  Think of how God punished David for his adultery or how God spoke to Job out of the whirlwind.  In the previous chapter here in Galatians, St. Paul writes of how the Law of Moses was like a tutor teaching the children of Israel.

But God considered the pagans far more harshly, as they followed not God but the seasons and the stars and all manner of fables they told themselves to make sense of a harsh and unforgiving world.  They grasped at foolishness in order to gain some knowledge of natural religion.

Thus all of humanity had the potential to become the sons of God, but this was a latent and untouched potential, for humanity had not reached the point where Christ’s presence and teaching would be most effective.

St. Paul continues with verses 4-5:

“4 But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law,

5 To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

God the Father sent forth the Second Person of the Trinity, the Son of God, down to earth to be born of a woman.  God the Son pre-existed Jesus Christ, Who is God the Son Incarnate among us.  God the Son had no beginning and no end, and in the words of the Nicene Creed, is “eternally begotten” of the Father.

“The fulness of the time” is an awesome phrase.  Why was the year of Christ’s birth so “meet and right” for His Incarnation?  Fr. Melville Scott says it better than I do:

“Christ’s coming took place … at the time most suitable, when the world had learned that it was hopeless to think of improving the human race by means of any of the religions or philosophies then existing; when all was ready for the diffusion of a world creed, and the Empire by its arms and laws had paved the road for the messengers of the King of Kings.’”

And so the time was right for the Blessed Virgin Mary to give birth to the Christ.  And in His Circumcision and Presentation at the Temple, Christ was clearly born under the Law, so that He might “redeem them that were under the law.”

The last two verses of today’s epistle are verses 6-7:

“6 And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.

7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”

Because we are sons of God through Christ, Christ does two things.  First He delivers us from evil, and then He supplies us with good.  The evil is the curse of the Law, from which Christ delivers us.  St. Paul spills a lot of ink on this one.  We are no longer condemned for our sins because Christ has come into the world as one of us, suffered and died for us, and rose again from the dead, defeating death and sin and Hell forever.

The good He does is gain us our “promotion to sonship”, and so God the Father fills our hearts with the Spirit of his Son.  With the shared sonship of the Father, the brotherhood of Christ, and the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, we who have faith in Christ and been washed in the waters of Holy Baptism receive abundant new life and participate in communion with God.  Through that vital connection to the creator of the universe, we may realize and act upon our adopted sonship.  At the Last Day, our souls shall rejoin our bodies, and we shall enter into Resurrection and perfect communion with the Triune God for all eternity.  But even now we have access to the promises of God in our lives, in our world.

 

Because the Son of God was made flesh, we receive the adoption of sons.  By the adoption of sons, we enjoy communion with the Father.  Because we are sons, we have the Spirit of the Son in our hearts.

Christ taking on human flesh at the Annunciation – a holy day of obligation coming up in March, by the way – by His taking on our flesh from the Blessed Mother, St. Mary, we are ultimately saved from sin and promoted to the first-rank of creation.  We enjoy blessed sweet communion with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost.  Nobody on earth can look at you like you’re nothing, for you are the blessed sons of God.

There are many ways one gets adopted nowadays.  One of those ways is when orphans in foreign countries, orphans living in hideous squalor, without family, without health care, without prospects for a long useful happy life, when those orphans get adopted by American or Australian or what have you couples, then they are brought into a safe and prosperous country and given – given is the word, mind you, for these are children without power or authority of their own – and given sonship or daughtership.  Such a child is instantly given safety, clothes, a warm bed, loving parents, good medical care, schooling, and citizenship.  If the child is handicapped, then even more is given to the child, for now the child’s disability is less crippling due to a more accepting society, laws guaranteeing access to public places, and healthcare which makes adjustments or corrections allowing for a more dignified and able life.

But there’s more.  The child also becomes an heir of the family.  Adopted children are not accorded lesser rights than natural-born children.  They are accorded the exact same rights as children born into the family, but they are given them graciously.  If the impoverished child is adopted into a rich family, that child will be heir to great wealth.

All of humanity suffers under the constraints of sin, disease, death, suffering, toil and all the consequences of our fall into sin.  Each of us suffers so.  On this earth in this life, we might think that some suffer more and some suffer less, but if we are to go to Hell, then we will all suffer horribly forever.  Unless.  Unless God were to come into the world and take on human flesh from a human mother, forever sanctifying the race which fell from God’s favor.  If only a woman would perfectly obey where the first woman disobeyed.  Then we might have salvation.

And we do thus have salvation through Christ!  For He truly became flesh inside the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary and united God and Man forever in His precious Body.  Think on that when you kneel for the Holy Communion today.  God and Man together made one Person in Christ Jesus our Lord, Who gave His precious Body and Blood to feed you, to eat and drink in your mouth, to take into your body so that you, body and soul, may be taken up into eternal communion with God the Father, so that you may become a vessel and tabernacle of the Holy Ghost, so that you may become the adopted brothers of the Son of God and eternal sons of the eternal God.

We hardly ever think on this.  But we should.  We should think on it every single day of our lives.  And I’ll tell you what:  You ought to be reminded of this every single day of your lives.  For each of us, if we are to claim the name of Christian, are to pray the Lord’s Prayer every single day of our lives unless in a coma until the day we die.

And it starts off, “Our Father….”

We think that this is a simple and decent prayer and certainly one that other religions should be able to say with us.  But they can’t!  And why not?

Atheists acknowledge no God.  Jews dare not call our God father.  Moslems think of themselves as slaves of God, not sons.  Hindus and Buddhists and Shinto folk do not conceive of God like we do.

Only Christians dare to call Almighty God their father!  Isn’t that a kick in the pants?  We sit around thinking, “Well, we’re saying the Lord’s Prayer.  Communion will finally be here and then we sing and then we eat.”

Instead, we ought to stop and savor the word:  Father.

 

I want to leave you with two big thoughts of how our adoption as sons of God permanently changes our lives.

The first thought is this:  If we are truly adopted sons of the Most High God, the creator of Heaven and earth, then we are not merely passing through this world.  God created this earth we stand on.  And this is the day which the Lord has made.  If we are the sons of God, then we are no longer renters with no attachment or investment in the things God has made and loved, but we are heirs and thereby owners of these things as well.  Everything we let slide here we will have to answer for.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we’ll have to fix it ourselves.

The last thought is this:  If we who believe in Christ, are washed in Holy Baptism, and commune with Christ in His Body and Blood are sons of God and tabernacles of the Holy Ghost, then we are all brothers and sisters.  If we are joint-heirs with Christ of eternal life, then we will be more than neighbors for all of eternity:  We will be related.  Do we act like family?  Do we love each other through thick and thin?  Do we accord each other mutual respect?  Or do we take advantage of each other?  Worse yet, do we ignore each other?  Do we gossip, slander, or insult each other?  I wouldn’t be surprised if we will have to own up to each ill-considered and hateful word we’ve ever said about each other either in Heaven or before we get there.

 

“…when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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