God knows!

Presentation of Christ in the Temple – 2016

Luke 2:22-39

Marian Free

 In the name of God who gives Godself to us completely and utterly. Amen.

I happened to read a women’s magazine during the week. One of the stories was of a career woman who had had no intention of having a child, but at forty-five had given birth to her first child. Like so many other public figures she said that the experience had changed her life. “I have this fierce mother instinct – it’s quite fierce and protective.” For many of us, holding a newborn is one of the most amazing experiences. The child in your arms is so vulnerable and so dependent. Even if the child is not your own, you are often overcome with the urge to protect the child and there is a sense of foreboding in regard to all of all that could go wrong – in the present and in the future. What if someone drops the child? What if they don’t hold his/her head in just the right way? Will the child be settled or unsettled? Are the new methods of wrapping, feeding, bathing really better than they way that they used to be done? All of those thoughts can go through our minds in an instant – the wonder, the joy, the fear and the anxiety together.

After the initial excitement has passed, we might begin to consider what sort of future the child might have. If the child is our own, a grandchild, a niece or nephew, most of us would be secure in the knowledge that she/he would be well loved and parented well. If not, we might have fears for the safety and well-being of the child. And the distant future – well that is purely the subject of our imagination, fuelled by our own desires and concerns our fears and anxieties. Will the child be able to escape tragedy in his/her life? Will the education system/the health system be sufficiently well-funded to ensure that the needs of the child are met? Will the child have the resilience to resist peer pressure – avoid drugs and alcohol? Will the environment be able to sustain another generation on the planet? Will we, particularly in today’s violent and unstable climate be able to protect this child from acts of terror or from war?

So many unknowns lie ahead of every child and the best parenting in the best environment is not enough to prevent tragedy or disaster – whether of the child’s own making or from external causes.

Jesus is still an infant when his parents bring him into the Temple to present him to God as demanded in the Book of Exodus (13). The Temple is a bustling place, especially the outer courts which are open to men and women of every nation and where, as we learn later, the exchange of money occurs and the animals to be used in thank offerings are sold. Into this crowd come two very ordinary people bringing with them their infant son. Somehow Simeon (who has been drawn to the Temple precincts by the Spirit) identifies this couple and knows immediately that their child is the anointed one for whom he has waited his whole life.

Without so much as a: “by your leave”, Simeon scoops the child into his arms and before his surprised parents bursts into a song of praise in which he identifies this baby as the one who is to bring glory to Israel and to be a light to the Gentiles. Perhaps Mary and Joseph are not totally surprised by this. Luke’s introduction leads us to believe that they know full well who Jesus is and what he is to become. They might be surprised to hear that not only will he save his people, but that the Gentiles will also come to faith through him, but the angel has already told them that: “he will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” It may be that they have already begun to imagine their future and that of their son – the honour and respect that might ensue once he became known for who he really was!

Imagine their shock when Simeon concludes: “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” “The rising and falling”, “A sign to be opposed” –suddenly a sense of foreboding is introduced into what had been a situation of joy and hope and expectation. Simeon’s words suggest that Jesus’ future will not be all smooth sailing, not everyone will share their confidence that Jesus is the Son of God.

Simeon’s prediction includes an element of threat and a warning – Jesus’ life will not conform to expectations. It is possible that he will not be a triumphant king. that his teaching and actions will not always be positively received. Instead of glory, there is a possibility that he will experience suffering and defeat. For Mary and Joseph, the confidence of the angel’s words must have come into question. They must have wondered what they could expect of this child? What would the future really hold? We can only speculate, but I imagine that Mary and Joseph will have left the Temple with a very different and much less certain view of how Jesus’ future would play out.

In order to save humankind, to bring us to our senses, God was prepared to enter our world fully and completely, vulnerable and unprotected. In Jesus, God completely abandoned divinity becoming fully human, completely vulnerable, completely dependent and susceptible to the same dangers and difficulties as the rest of humankind. It is for this reason that Hebrews can record: “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses”.

Life may not go the way that we expected for ourselves – or for our children. Not even God is able to protect us from the things that living in this world entails, but through good times and bad, disaster and triumph there is one thing of which we can be sure – that God in Jesus chose not to be shielded from the accidents of fate, the cruelties of human beings and the indifference of the planet. God, in Jesus knows that there is no certainty in this life except the certainty of God and of God’s overwhelming love for us that allowed God to immerse Godself so completely in our existence that it would be impossible for us to say: “God does not know what I am going through.”

 

(If you have taken up the challenge to explore Luke’s gospel. Note: Luke’s concern with the Temple, his determination to demonstrate continuity with Judaism – the family undergo the Jewish rites – the presence of the Spirit and the gospel for the Gentiles.)

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