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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Thursday, January 2, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading | Luke 2:21–40

After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “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.” There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. (NRSV)

Although lesser known than the magi in Matthew’s Gospel, the prophets Simeon and Anna play a similar and important role in Luke’s Gospel: they represent an expansion of God’s promises beyond the people of Israel. This expansion of God’s promises in Luke 2:29–32 fulfills a number of prophetic words from the post-exilic period, such as Isaiah 40–66, and will be a continued theme in Jesus’ teaching in Luke and in the growth of the early church in Acts. Over and over, the readers (or hearers) of these books will be asked to expand and grow their understanding of who “God’s people” are—and that should be good news!

It should be noted, though, that this expansion of God’s promises won’t be seen as a blessing by all. “This child is destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel,” Simeon prophesies, “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.” It’s easy to pin this on the Pharisees and Sadducees, unwilling or unable to let their power and status diminish, but it’s much harder to let that sword pierce our own soul, too. How much have we truly allowed the child in the manger to reorder our lives and priorities? How have our biases, habits, and behaviors kept us from seeing Christ in all our brothers and sisters, growing in our understanding of who God’s people are? Even as we continue to bask in the warm glow of the manger, may our hearts and minds be kindled for renewal and change once more.

Loving God, in Christ you have asked me to stretch the limits of my compassion beyond the bounds that I have set—but too often I fall short. Help to reorder and reshape my life that I might better follow you. Amen.

Written by Matt Helms, Associate Pastor for Children and Family Ministry

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