Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Mayaltho (Maa'ltho - Entry of our Lord into the temple)

Sermon / Homily on St. Luke 2:22-40

The Consolation of Israel

by Jerry Goebel, One Family Outreach

Gospel: Luke 2:22-40

Luke 2:22-40

[Lk 2:22] And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord [23] (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), [24] and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS."

[25] And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. [26] And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. [27] And he came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to carry out for Him the custom of the Law, [28] then he took Him into his arms, and blessed God, and said,

[29] "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, According to Your word; [30] For my eyes have seen Your salvation, [31] Which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, [32] A LIGHT OF REVELATION TO THE GENTILES, And the glory of Your people Israel."

[33] And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. [34] And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed— [35] and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

[36] And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, [37] and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. [38] At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

[39] When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. [40] The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

Luke 2:22-24

[Lk 2:22] And when the days for their purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord [23] (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "EVERY firstborn MALE THAT OPENS THE WOMB SHALL BE CALLED HOLY TO THE LORD"), [24] and to offer a sacrifice according to what was said in the Law of the Lord, "A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS."

"Shall be called holy..."

Luke was not only a physician, but he was apparently a well-read historian and some say he was an accomplished painter as well. We know for sure that Luke was very particular about details. His profession and his avocation were steeped in precision. In these three verses, Luke shows us in typically accurate fashion how each of the sacrificial requirements of the Jewish law were met by Christ’s parents.

1. Jesus is presented to the Lord to be named and circumcised;

On the eighth day after birth, every male child was to be circumcised as a sign of the Jewish covenant with their One God.

2. Redemption of the Firstborn

Within thirty-one days of birth, the firstborn male (the child that opens the womb) had to be purchased back from God. In the days of Abraham, every first born male was sacrificed to the god’s of those ancient tribes. YHWH refused the death offering of Isaac but claimed the life of the firstborn as his servant [Exodus 13:2]. However, the child’s life could be purchased back from God for five shekels [Numbers 18:16] which was paid directly to the temple priests.

3. Mary waits through the days of purification:

Women had to live apart from others for forty days if they had a boy and eighty days if they had a girl. During this time, they were allowed to do housework, but she was forbidden from the temple or religious activities. At the end of that time, she was required to make an offering of a sheep and a pigeon. This offering was incredibly expensive and unreachable for the poor (who could rarely even eat meat). The Law [Leviticus 12:8] allowed for those who were impoverished to offer a second pigeon if they could not afford a sheep.

This is fairly indicative of how taxing the law had become for the poor. Not only was there a financial weight to meeting these laws—but these sacrifices spread out over many days and those who lived a fair distance from Jerusalem would be especially burdened to meet these requirements. The fact that Mary and Joseph offered two pigeons also reminds us of the humility of our Lord’s station. Jesus came from the poor to bring good news to the poor.

Each of these rituals was necessary for the fulfillment of Jewish law but something had gone horribly wrong. These rights of incredible passage (culminating in the Bar Mitzvah when a male became a "child of the law") should have brought children under the wing of a nation with powerful resources. Granted, it was not the most powerful nation, but it still had a huge amount of resources at its disposal. The problem was that those resources were in the hands of a very elite group who used them towards their ends and not towards the ends of the next generation; Israel’s future. It just so happened that one of these neglected children was also the only begotten and first male child of Israel’s God.

How ironic that the Son of the Most High God was totally neglected by the most elite of Israel’s highest court. He was just another nameless face in a long line of forgotten children for whom the social fabric had been torn asunder.

However, this is the tragedy of government after government, religion after religion and corporation after corporation. We continue to miss the face of God in our own children because we continue to not see them as our greatest treasures but instead as a faceless irritant to our system.

Eventually, this child would be tried and killed because of how he treasured children and became good news to the poor. He was killed for expediency and not for any other reason:

John 18:14

[Jn 18:14] Now Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was expedient for one man to die on behalf of the people.

As I write this, I sit in juvenile court watching case after case—child after child—"processed". For some of them it will be the tenth time or more that they will be in front of this judge. Somehow we don’t seem to "get it"; these children aren’t the problem. The system we keep sending them into is the problem but it is not expedient to fix the system. It is expedient to blame the victim. Jesus was that victim; he was that number in a faceless line that we missed completely.

For this reason Malachi and the angel Gabriel sent John to "turn the hearts of the fathers back to children [Mal. 4:6, Luke 1:17]."

The nation that neglects its children neglects its future. Nothing could be a greater condemnation of a leader than; "You lived in comfort while the children around you starved—whether it be for attention or food."

"A PAIR OF TURTLEDOVES OR TWO YOUNG PIGEONS."

Something that Luke leaves out here is that the preferred offering for purification was a lamb. If that was too expensive for a family, then they would offer the turtledoves or pigeons. This was obviously not even a consideration for the Holy Family; a lamb was so far beyond their economic means. Here again is the irony of ages; the one sacrifice for all humanity could not even afford a proper sacrifice at his own presentation before his own Father. This is the distance that had developed between religion and salvation. That separation reflected the distance between the religious and the least of these of whom the infant Jesus was one.

The further we are from the wounded body of Jesus; the more ritualistic and religious we become. The closer we are to the least of these; the more likely we are to daily see the face of Jesus.

Luke 2:25-26

[25] And there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel; and the Holy Spirit was upon him. [26] And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

"This man was righteous and devout"

We actually know quite a bit about Simeon:

He was one of a group called The Quiet in the Land. This group committed themselves solely to praying for the coming of the Messiah and to hasten his coming by pursuing justice and devoting themselves to being a living sacrifice to God.

1. He was committed to justice and well-known for that commitment;

When the bible says that Simeon was known as a ‘righteous’ man, the word comes from ‘just’. He was a just man; the verb [dikaios; GSN 1342] means that he was equitable, indeed holy, in his dealings with others. Here we see the heart of biblical justice. Regardless of the whether the world around us is fair—we will be fair. To be Christian doesn’t mean weighing our actions by the world’s concept of legal or ethical. Our measurement is to treat others as Christ has treated us. Simeon was just—not legal. He lived above the law, not by it or dancing around it.

1. He was known for his commitment to habitual practice of God in his daily life;

Simeon was known to be a devout man [eulabes, GSN1342]; two words that combine to mean ‘a well-lived life’ and ‘an amazing life’—even ‘an amazingly accepting / forgiving life’. Piety should not be measured by church attendance and daily prayer—but whether our attendance and prayer produces the fruit of acceptance and forgiveness in our lives. Are we amazingly accepting and forgiving of others? If we are—then our habitual practices seem to be leading us to see Jesus in the cacophony of today’s world (as did Simeon and Anna). If not, perhaps our piety is in form only.

2. He was in that place at that time by God’s design and the Holy Spirit’s prompting;

Simeon’s life had but one purpose: To live in such a way that he would be able to see and testify to Jesus upon his earthly arrival. Simeon was not on the temple steps that day by accident—nor was Anna. They were there by design of God and by the prompting of the Holy Spirit to add their testimony to the arrival of the Anointed One. Only Luke, in his studious research finds these two who testified to the arrival of Jesus. There are a number of reasons why only Luke would print this;

i) Only Luke was extremely concerned with the legal details of Jesus’ life;

ii) Only Luke would consider a woman’s testimony as ‘fit for print’. There were too many hang-ups to the Jewish, Middle Eastern mentality that did not encumber Luke. Praise God for the gentile writer with a love for the details.

Where are the "Quiet in the Land" today? Who, in your community are the simple, devoted believers who quietly work for justice while living in constant, communal prayer? Their simple devotion helps them to see Jesus. I am convinced that it is worth everything to live among such people for the reward is seeing Jesus while the masses (and the religious leaders) walked right by him. Others were seeking a Messiah to unseat Rome, some had reduced their ritual to religion, for still others; religion was simply the center of their cultural and social life. We can learn immense knowledge from these short few verses about the "Quiet of the Land". What a joy it would be to be counted among them

This man was righteous and devout

While the religious were in the temple observing the ritual; there were two elderly people observing the crowds. They were Simeon and Anna. Scripture tells us how devout they were and goes on to tell us that Simeon was known for his righteousness.

Devout [2126 eulabes]; describes a person who is literally caught up [NT2983 lambano] with doing what God calls good [NT2095 eu]. Righteous, means to do acts of justice [NT1342 dikaios]. Can there be a better description of a person who is poised to see the Savior in any crowd?

Notice, Simeon wasn’t looking "in the church" for the Savior; he was looking "on the street."

Where am I looking for the face of my Savior today? Do I look with expectation upon the crowd outside the church; examining every face for the Christ within? Am I poised like Simeon caught up in doing acts of kindness and justice? If I am, the face of Salvation is still among the nameless crowd who shuffles past our church’s in every city in the world. He is still there; am I poised to find him?

It had been revealed to him

Simeon has one last lesson to teach us. It is a lesson about not clinging to this world. It is so visible throughout the season of Advent to Christmas and on through Epiphany, that those who were able to see Jesus were absolutely unencumbered by this world.

1. There is John the Baptist, the desert aesthetic who came as merely a moon to Christ’s sun;

2. There is Mary, the mother of Jesus, who took on the stigma of an unmarried mother to become the handmaiden of God;

3. There is Simeon and Anna, whose eyes had left behind all worldly wants so they could only want to see Jesus.

Each life was unconcerned about the world’s perceptions, about their image, about their personal needs. Each life was solely focused on a mission;

1. To herald the Lord;

2. To bear the Lord;

3. To testify to the Lord.

To them, giving up their worldly desires was nothing compared to carrying out their heavenly mission. Each of them was faithful to the end, offering a "peace that is beyond all understanding." Simeon closes his life with praise on his lips; [Luke 2:29] "Now Lord, You are releasing Your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to Your word."

It was as though each of them could see beyond the veil of this life and into the liberty of life in Jesus.

1 Corinthians 15:54-58

[58] But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory. [55] "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" [56] The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; [57] but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

[58] Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not {in} vain in the Lord. (NAS)

"The consolation of Israel"

This is one of the names of Jesus that we don’t often think about. He was the "Consolation of Israel." The word "consolation" in Greek [NT3874 paraklesis] and Hebrew [OT5162 nacham] means comfort and encouragement. Here is how it is used in the Old Testament:

Isaiah 40:1-5

"Comfort, O comfort My people," says your God. 2 "Speak kindly to Jerusalem; And call out to her, that her warfare has ended, That her iniquity has been removed, That she has received of the LORD’S hand Double for all her sins."

3 A voice is calling, "Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God. 4 "Let every valley be lifted up, And every mountain and hill be made low; And let the rough ground become a plain, And the rugged terrain a broad valley; 5 Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed, And all flesh will see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

Isaiah 51:3

3 Indeed, the LORD will comfort Zion; He will comfort all her waste places. And her wilderness He will make like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness will be found in her, Thanksgiving and sound of a melody.

Here in Isaiah the Consolation of Israel is heralded. "The Lord will be revealed," proclaims Isaiah. He will be consolation in all the waste places and a garden in the desert. What greater promise could there be? Notice, however that Isaiah does not promise that there will be no "waste places," that there will be no "deserts." He promises comfort within those places.

That is a huge deception by many Christian preachers; that once we become believer’s our trials and suffering will disappear. The Consolation of Israel comes to bring comfort to what would otherwise seem as wasted, useless, circumstances. When we feel most deserted, our Consoler will be most present. Similarly, we become most like Jesus when we take his consolation to the most wasted deserts around us. Where are those wasted deserts in your community?

Furthermore, we can go with great confidence because Jesus has given us the eternal comforter. The Lord came to bring our salvation—to complete the promise of God. But he promised to leave us one who would be our comforter for all time and in all places:

John 14:14-18

14 "If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it. 15 "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. 16 "And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; 17 that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not behold Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you, and will be in you. 18 "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."

That word for "Helper" is the same word as the term for Comforter and Consolation. Indeed the Consolation of God’s people has arrived. His name is Jesus, and he has given us the eternal gift of peace within chaos; strength within adversity; hope within desperation; and well-watered gardens within the wasteland.

Luke 2:33-35

[33] And His father and mother were amazed at the things which were being said about Him. [34] And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary His mother, "Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed- [35] and a sword will pierce even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed."

A sword will pierce even your own soul

As long as we are in this world—there will be no escaping the fact that the message of Jesus will have an edge to it. As soon as it becomes warm and fuzzy and unchallenging—it has somehow been watered down. Certainly, there is a quiet confidence in the Christ Follower knowing that Jesus has created the bridge to salvation. Yet, being comfortable in this world, means that we have either turned a blind eye to injustice or quit searching for the last door where Christ’s love has yet to be offered. According to Peter, only when every door has been knocked upon will salvation break forth: "The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance [2 Pet 3:9]."

Jesus, the Consolation of Israel, has done his part; and he placed the church into our hands to continue through the work of the Holy Spirit. We can find comfort in Jesus; but we can’t get comfortable with Jesus.

The sword of salvation is like operating with a double-edged scalpel. Remember the story of the young man who walked away from Jesus? Our Lord tells him that perfection is found in selling everything to the poor and following the Lord. Only Mark recounts the story with the full passion of Jesus’ heart: "And looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him, and said to him, "One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess, and give to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me [Mark 10:21]."

How painful it must have been for Jesus to watch him walk away. How tempted I would be to say; "No, come on back, we make exceptions for rich young rulers. You only have to give ten percent—if that is comfortable for you."

How hard it must have been for the father to watch his prodigal child leave to indulge in the sin of the world. How hard it must have been for God to let his son come to earth. How hard it was for Jesus to accept the cup of God at Gethsemane.

A parent who loves their child knows there are times when the child will be angry at them for being corrected. A mature parent takes no comfort in rebuke. A mature Christian takes no pleasure in preaching repentance or challenging Christian infants that they are stagnant in their faith. Yet, the mature parent or Christian is willing to operate if necessary—even if the razor is double-sided; even when the pain is deep.

Simeon’s blessing was glorious. Simeon’s blessing was horrid. Yet, Simeon’s blessing was truth. As truth it stands today. The message of Jesus divides goats and sheep. It brings a sword—even between families. It is opposed, it is piercing, it reveals hearts. Yet, it never pierces, cuts, or reveals capriciously. As Luke—the surgeon of the Lord—would know; Christ cuts to heal. Our Lord seeks to eradicate what is cancerous and leave behind wholeness.

It is the pain that heals.

Luke 2:36-40

[36] And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, [37] and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. [38] At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

[39] When they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. [40] The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

"And there was a prophetess"

Anna was also one of "Quiet of the Land." Of her father, Phanuel, and the tribe of Asher, we know very little (except that Asher—for whom the tribe was named—was one of the sons of Jacob). We can only presume that Luke uses this reference as it meant something that would increase Anna’s stature at the time of his writing. However, we do know this about Anna:

1. She was a widow of many years;

Luke tells us that Anna was 84 when she proclaimed Jesus. He also tells us in typical detail that she had been married seven years before becoming a widow. That would mean that Anna had been devoted to her temple ministry for nearly sixty years.

Here is a lesson in the power of prayer and faithful waiting. Anna had devoted the length of her life and extent of her energy to praying for the Messiah’s arrival. Her lifelong endeavor was to pray for and prepare to recognize the Lord upon his arrival. Waiting upon the Lord is never easy; but waiting nearly sixty years seems incomprehensible in an age of nanoseconds and immediate gratification.

There are many temptations faced by those who wait upon the Lord for any amount of time:

i) Losing interest, perhaps even losing faith that God hears or cares for you. We often can become impatient and even blame God for not responding according to our timeline.

ii) Instead of deepening in faith, we can become ritualistic; attached to the method of waiting and losing any expectation of the Lord’s response. We go through the actions, recite the words, but there is no feeling behind them.

One can almost imagine Anna asking daily; "Is this the day, Lord?" That’s the type of waiting that pleases the Lord and results in his revelation. That was the expectant waiting of John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Mary, Simeon and Anna. Has our waiting lost its urgency? Is our waiting (despite its length) still comprised of expectancy and enthusiasm?

2. She was a prophetess;

Being a prophet [prophetis, GSN4398] was a much wider expression than being someone who ‘foretold’ the future. It also meant someone who "proclaimed" the future. To pro (forward) claim (take possession of) is a very inspirational word for a Christian. Anna, had "forward obtained" the day that she would live to testify to the Messiah. God answered that prayer in a most amazing way. He allowed her to live to an extremely old age (the life expectancy in Judea at that time was the late forties). What if Anna had lost faith at twenty? What if she had become bitter at fifty or gave up praying at eighty-three? God did not answer Anna by immediately responding to her needs, he responded by allowing her to live another day until—after 30,660 days—her life overlapped with the presentation of Jesus.

Meanwhile, she did not lose faith. She kept on praying, ‘pro-claiming’, forward-obtaining the Lord. Showing up at the temple and asking the Holy Spirit; "Will I see him today?"

"Is this the day, Lord?"

Is there anyone that you are forward obtaining? Am I proclaiming the arrival of Jesus in my community? Am I waking with the daily passion of; "Is this the day, Lord?" "Is this the day that you will come into my grandson’s heart?" "Is this the day that you will come into our jails?" "Is this the day, Lord that you will return?"

Yesterday, I had a great talk with a friend of mine who is a Pastor of a pretty comfortable church. We talked about the return of Jesus and how I was longing for that event with immediacy. He smiled and said; "All in good time." As we talked about Christ’s Second Coming, I began to realize how different our ‘sheep’ were from each other. There is literally no one that I see in my daily work that would lose a thing if Christ established his reign immediately. If the bars fell and they were free, if they woke up and had good health or a home. If suddenly, they had clarity of purpose, were free from depression, abuse, alcohol or drugs. None of them have an investment in this world of sorrow and brokenness.

Yet, "having everything" is nothing compared to "being anywhere" with Jesus. The Pastor and I both agreed that the more we have—the harder it is to imagine a life of total dependency upon the Lord.

In the meantime, let us all pray for the Consolation of Israel to return and let’s pray most earnestly with our actions. Like Anna, let’s seek the Christ child among the crowd and continually ask: "Is this the day, Lord?"

Copyright © 2005 Jerry Goebel. http://onefamilyoutreach.com All Rights Reserved. Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE, (C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1960, 1962, 1963, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1988. Used by permission.

See Also:

The Jewish Christ of The Underclass
by Larry Broding

Simeon - The Seer
by Rev. Dr. M. J. Joseph

Growing
by John Jewell

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for Mayaltho

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