Reflection by Revd Chris Rattenberry
When we reach the Presentation of Christ in the Temple in a sense we come to the end of the Christmas season. What do I mean by that? Remember that Jesus was born in Israel, to Mary a Jewish mother and into a Jewish family. Who knew the Old Testament Scriptures and followed the traditions of Judaism. So, on the 40th day after the birth, they do what Jewish families were expected to do on that day. The Christmas story is wonderful. Angels, stars, the miracle of a new-born King. But this was a real birth of a real baby. So, following the Law of the LORD, there was to be Purification for the mother and Dedication of the First Born for the child.
The living God breaking into the life of the world and the ordinary lives of Mary and Joseph. And in Jerusalem we meet another two ordinary folk. Simeon, who hangs around the Temple waiting for God to do something. A devout man. And Anna – elderly, of the tribe of Asher, an unimportant tribe, but living a life of worship, with fasting and prayer. In them we see the combination of ordinary lives along with openness to God. A powerful combination as it was in Mary’s life, too. We remember her words, “I am the Lord’s servant … may your word to me be fulfilled.”
Anna has been given special insight into the true significance of this new-born. The Holy Spirit has revealed to Simeon that in his lifetime he will see the Christ. Now he’s prompted, guided by the Spirit to go into the Temple courts. There he sees, he perceives, that the promise of Christ is fulfilled in this child. Some people say that all babies look the same! But among all the babies being brought to the Temple, this is the one.
I wonder whether that prompting to go into the Temple courts resonates with us. Have you ever felt God nudging you into doing something, speaking to someone, or reflecting on something? A prompt to go to a place or a person. To say something to a particular person at a particular time. Maybe not fully understanding what is happening but responding to God. Often it’s a small thing in itself but it can be very powerful. God at work even through me. God at work through you. Ordinary, flawed lives but with some openness to God.
For Jesus life will be painful and costly. He will face temptation, rejection, betrayal and ultimately the cross. For Mary too, life as God’s handmaiden will be costly. Simeon sees this, again a work of the Holy Spirit in this prayerful man, and he warns her, “a sword will pierce your own soul too”. Christian discipleship is still costly. Putting self aside and serving others requires giving rather than taking. Responding to the nudges of the Spirit is risky – what if I get it wrong? Or, will I be rejected if I speak?
But at the heart of openness to God is a willingness to obey. A potentially costly path to walk. But ordinary lives and an openness to God is a powerful combination still.
And the costly path of discipleship brings with it huge blessings. Simeon for example has no fear of death. He had been promised that in his lifetime he would see the Christ. When he now says, “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations” he is saying, “It’s OK, I can die now”! He’s ready. God has been as good as his word. Simeon has seen this but even more importantly he can see that God’s work of salvation for the world is moving forwards.
There are lots of big, brave heroes in the Bible. But I find it easier to be inspired by the little folk. The commonplace lives. The run-of-the-mill people whom God can use – if only we’ll let him.