God’s people are now God’s Temple: we, like Jesus, bear God’s light and love into the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The feast of the Presentation of Our Lord
Text: Luke 2:22-40
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
It was so vast, Isaiah could barely see anything else except some angels.
In Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem, Isaiah had a staggering vision of God. The huge space was filled with just the hem of God’s robe. Isaiah fell down in terror, knowing he was unworthy.
Today we come again to the Temple of the God of Israel, but the second one, built after the return from exile. Once more a prophet sees God. Simeon replaces Isaiah. It’s nothing like before.
The Creator of all has again come to the Temple. But not in immensity, only a fraction filling the great worship space. Now the vision is a tiny little baby. Now the Triune God, first revealed to Israel, has come to God’s Temple as a child, God in human flesh.
And know this: because of this child, the dwelling-place of the one true God can no longer be adequately housed in a building. This baby reveals God is permanently changing residence.
Try to grasp the significance of this.
Temples in ancient times were the only sure sign a god was real. They were a place to worship that god, to control that god, a place where the religious elite were in charge, and they were the home of that god.
Ancient peoples believed that what happened to the temple happened to the temple’s god. If you desecrate your enemy’s temple, you humiliate your enemy’s god. If you destroy your enemy’s temple, you defeat your enemy’s god. In short, not much different from our view of church buildings and teachings and traditions today.
This second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed within decades of Jesus’ resurrection. Judaism was scattered throughout the world, and changed irrevocably. They had to change their ritual and refocus their faith practice with no Temple, no sacrifice, no religious elite, no God-home, at its center.
But years earlier this baby had already pointed to a world where all temples were left behind.
This is the beginning of the end of God belonging only to one people and one place.
This child has come, Simeon says, to be a light of revelation to the Gentiles, “to the nations,” that is, to non-Jews. And yet this child is also the glory of his own people, Israel. All God’s children are included in God’s light and glory, through this child.
This child comes into the Temple of one people and signals the end of all parochial gods who can be possessed and controlled, the end of religion which excludes others. Instead of every people having their own gods and their own temples, and hating and destroying each other, God comes in Christ for all. To cross all borders and walls. To embrace all of God’s beloved children.
Every time we see Jesus come to the Jewish Temple he shows this new reality, confronts the status quo.
Today in God’s Temple Jesus is recognized by Simeon as God’s Son, an astonishing realization. When we begin to recognize that God is in this small baby, we begin seeing that Jesus completely changes how we know and meet God.
The next time we see Jesus in the Temple, he’s 12 and arguing with the teachers there, asserting his authority over elders and scribes many times his age. As an adult he charges into the Temple and drives out the moneychangers, directly challenging the authority of the religious leaders. He refers to his own body as the Temple that will be destroyed, and that he will rebuild after three days, foreshadowing his death and resurrection. And stating directly that God’s home has permanently changed.
At Jesus’ death, the curtain to the Holy of Holies is torn in two. There is no more hidden divine place where only privileged people can go. The glory of God is no longer shut away from God’s people. God’s glory is out and about in the world. And in the resurrection, Christ is proclaimed God of all, the Light of all nations Simeon foretold that shines in all, for all.
And in the world today, everything changes with this.
If God’s House is no longer one particular place belonging to one particular people, where only those who worship or believe the same things are blessed and worthy of life, while all others are condemned, if that’s no longer true, then Simeon’s right: everything changed with this child. In a world where fear and hatred of those who are different is promoted and proclaimed, even by Christians, all of that now ends in this child.
In this baby the astonishing truth of God’s coming to us in the flesh begins to dawn in our hearts and minds: that is, God’s love surely includes all peoples. God is no longer owned by those who build the most impressive temples, the biggest walls, or the greatest armies.
God’s out in the world, in you, in me, in all God’s children, shining light and love on the whole creation.
Because each of you also are filled with the Spirit of God, and each of you are members of the Body of Christ, you are literally God’s temples. “Do you not know,” Paul said to the Corinthians, “that your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit within you?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
You are now God’s dwelling places. In you God lives and moves and has being. In you, God’s radical plan to bring all people together in Christ finds life.
When we wash John Larry with water today and pray God’s Spirit on him, we do what Simeon did. We say, “Now, in this child, we see God’s anointed one, God’s Christ sent into the world.” John joins all of you, all of us, in the mission we share to bear God’s light and love to all people.
And God lives in him. John becomes a temple of God, like you.
As God’s temples, moving in the world, you shine God’s light into the dark places.
You bear the grace and forgiveness you’ve received wherever you’ve been planted. Spirit-filled, you live as God’s presence in the world, bearing God into the darkness. And the light shines for all to see.
In the name of Jesus. Amen