She does not have the money to be able to afford the lamb that is required. She only can afford the alternative that brands her as a poor woman—a pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons. These she and her husband bring with their son. And they enter the Temple. Like Hannah who brings her only son Samuel to the holy place at Shiloh and presents him before the Lord, this young woman, Mary, dutifully brings her baby and presents him before the Lord on the 8th day of his life in accordance with the priestly understanding set forth in Leviticus chapter 12. It is an understanding that goes all the way back to Abraham whose relationship with God—whose experience of God—is marked by the physical marking of circumcision in Genesis 17.
If there is one word that seems to me to sum up the relationship of humans to the Eternal, the word for me would be encounter. That is, humans – you and I – are invited to encounter the Divine and to be shaped by the holy. We are invited through the proclamations of scripture and through the historical accounts of the experiences of others to come ourselves before the Lord of all and to present ourselves to the Lord of all. And so this morning, our opening prayer designed to gather or collect our thoughts, issues this invitation: We humbly pray that as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord. Encounter.
When we walk through the red doors, we present ourselves. When we pray, we present ourselves. When we come to the altar and kneel together, we present ourselves. When we read words from scripture, we present ourselves. In eucharis, we present ourselves. One of our hymn writers put this idea of encounter this way:
Here, O my Lord, I see Thee face to face
Here would I touch and handle things unseen;
Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
And all my weariness upon thee lean. (318)
And so our religion is experiential. It is a burning bush, a fire that will not go out. It is the still small voice. It is a meal eaten in haste just before the great flight from captivity in a far-off land called Egypt. Last Sunday this dimension of encounter was expressed in the direct encounter of fisherman at their nets with Jesus. In the midst of a very ordinary day, Jesus invites fishermen to leave everything and to follow him. And they get up and follow. And now this Sunday we have more of this experiential dimension.
Mary and Joseph present their newborn child, their first-born son. They bring him to the temple on the 8th day for the ritual of circumcision, connecting this newborn baby with the Covenant that long ago the Divine Being, YHWH, the I AM made with Abram. A name is asked for. And the name that is presented with the infant is the name Jesus. That name means “savior.” It is the same name as Joshua in the Old Testament. The name is given. The ritual is completed. And when it is over, Luke tells us about two people who experience this ritual as an encounter with God. Anna the prophetess and Simeon. Simeon’s response is filled with joy and expectation as he takes the child into his arms. And so an ancient ritual is marked on this day by a dramatic sense of encounter as a baby enters into the Covenant relationship with the God of all.
All throughout the scriptures, names are important. They are like sign-posts, marking moments of encounter with the holy. Rachel, dying in childbirth, calls her son Ben-Oni which means son of my sorrow. Jacob later changes this name to to Benjamin which means son of the right hand. Jacob himself has his name changed from Jacob to Israel because he wrestled with God by the river Jabbok. Rachel means sheep. Deborah means bee. Yona dove. Caleb dog. The name of Abram means may the Father be exalted. At the time of the Covenant of YHWH, the I AM, with Abram—the Covenant promise associated with the ritual of circumcision—Abram’s name was changed to Abraham which means the Father of a multitude. All of these things bear witness, in some way, to an experiential dimension of the holy.
The eminent archeologist Roland de Vaux has this to say about names: Among primitive people and throughout the ancient east, the name denotes the essence of a thing: to name it is to know it, and, consequently, to have power over it. … Since the name defines the essence, it reveals the character and destiny of the bearer. The name becomes the expression of a hope…
And so the young woman Mary and her husband Joseph are asked for a name for their baby boy. Just one verse before our reading this morning from Luke we are told that he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. They remembered and honored this encounter with the holy. And the name means savior. Hearing this Simeon says to the mother of Jesus: 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 heart also. That is, this name is costly. This name comes at a price. This name will change the lives of many. This name will change the course of history.
This morning one of the verses from our Psalm, Psalm 84: 8 says Behold our defender, O God; and look upon the face of your Anointed. As Simeon holds the baby in his arms; as Anna praises God and speaks about this child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem; as this couple returns to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth; as Luke moves on with his narrative—as all these things transpire, we understand that something new has happened.
A name has been given. And that name means Savior. Today we are invited to encounter the holy through the powerful name of Jesus. At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow/ Every tongue confess him King of Glory now.
And so we are invited. Come to this Jesus. Present yourself to Him just as Jesus himself was presented to the God of All in the Temple. Open up your life and your spirit. Reach out, take the risk.
Here O my Lord I see Thee, face to face. Here would I touch and handle things unseen. Here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace. And all my weariness upon Thee lean.
In the name of God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.