Presentation at the Temple: March 18th 2021

Numbers 7:1-65

Moses finished setting up the tabernacle. He anointed and consecrated it along with all its furnishings and the altar. My local church had a replacement altar a few years ago and it was consecrated in a beautiful ceremony by our bishop. The new altar was lovingly anointed with sacred oil (chrism) making it a symbol of Jesus Christ ‘The Anointed One’. Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit and became our High Priest so that on the altar of his body he might offer the sacrifice of his life for the salvation of us all.

Incense was burned on the new alter to signify Christ’s sweet sacrifice ascending to God and the people’s prayers rising up to the throne of God. The altar was dressed and adorned as the table of the sacrificial banquet for the memorial of Christ’s death and resurrection. It was lit with candles reminding us of John 8:12, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’ and today’s reading from Luke (2:32). Jesus is ‘a light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel‘.

It was traditional for relics of saints to be cemented inside an altar, which recalls the early Christians meeting secretly in the catacombs, for fear of persecution, and using the tombs of martyrs as their altars. John 6:9, ‘I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained’. https://jasonbermender.wordpress.com/2016/09/30/the-rite-of-consecrating-a-fixed-altar/.

The leaders of Israel donate six covered carts and 12 oxen, which are given to the Levites. These must have made the work at the Tent of Meeting much easier. It’s great to give good quality, practical gifts to the church. Every pastor needs a car – why not give them one if you have spare cash or help them with the running expenses of their one.

Each of the Israelite leaders brought the same comprehensive list of offerings. No-one tried to sneak in an extra lamb to try to gain more favour for their own tribe.

Luke 2:21-40

Jesus was inducted into the Jewish religion on his 8th day by being named and circumcised (Luke 2:21). I was baptised into the Christian church when I was a year old. Baptism makes an indelible supernatural stamp on your soul proclaiming you belong to God. Several Christian denominations don’t baptise young children and wait until someone is past the age of reason when they can then declare their own belief in Jesus and desire baptism. Jesus told us the two requirements for receiving eternal life, ‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned’ (Mark 16:16). We don’t get into heaven by performing charitable works. We can’t buy our salvation from God, it is priceless. ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent’ (John 6:29).

If we have been baptized as infants, which purified us from all our sins, made us adopted children of God and gave us a new birth in the Holy Spirit (CCC, 1262) I think it is also vitally important as adults to make a heart-felt proclamation of our own faith and belief and ask the Holy Spirit to ignite our faith within us.

Mary and Joseph consecrated Jesus to the Lord according to custom by offering a pair of doves or pigeons (Luke 2:24). This demonstrates that they were not particularly wealthy as otherwise they would have offered a lamb, ‘But if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering’ (Lev. 12:8). So, we as humans gave a token gift of doves and got a priceless lamb back from God in return. Jesus, the spotless lamb of God. God works like that. He multiples whatever we offer him.

A righteous and devout man, Simeon, was moved by the Spirit to visit the temple on the day that baby Jesus visited and through the gift of knowledge announced that Jesus would be our salvation and ‘a light of revelation to the Gentiles’ (Luke 2:32).

Simeon put a damper on the day by telling Mary, ‘And a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (Luke 2:35). That can be a problem with prophets – they are honest and don’t really care for people’s feelings. Did it do Mary any good to know a sword would pierce her soul? Did she wake up each day wondering if today would be that day? I don’t think so – she just got on with trusting God that he was looking after everyone’s best interests in the long run.

Anna, a prophetess, never left the temple and adds to the excitement speaking ‘to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem’ (Luke 2:38). Anna is labelled as a prophetess and Mary is ‘full of grace’. Women are receiving a fair share of supernatural blessings.

The Holy Family returned to live in Nazareth, which fulfilled the prophecy mentioned in Matthew 2:23 ‘So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazarene’. It’s not exactly sure which Old Testament prophecy this relates to. Most people think it is Isaiah 11:1 – see this link (https://www.gotquestions.org/Matthew-2-23-Jesus-Nazarene.html). People from Nazareth were often discriminated against, ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked’ (John 1:46). I suffer similar discrimination having been brought up in Essex.

It’s amazing that Joseph lived in Nazareth but was called to Bethlehem for the census, just as Jesus was born, neatly fulfilling that our saviour would be born in one place and brought up in the other.

We don’t hear anything else about Jesus’ childhood until he was twelve. Many people say that he didn’t perform any miracles until he started his adult ministry after his baptism, when the Holy Spirit descended onto him. However, the Holy Spirit was always with Jesus. Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit ‘his whole life and his whole mission are carried out in total communion with the Holy Spirit whom the Father gives him ‘without measure” (CCC,1286). ‘From his conception, Christ’s humanity is filled with the Holy Spirit, for God gives him the Spirit without measure (CCC,504). Jesus took on a rational, human soul to be incarnated on earth and thus was endowed with a true human knowledge that could not be unlimited (CCC, 472). He had to learn from wisdom, experience and words of knowledge from the Holy Spirit. To become a human, the Son of God emptied himself and ‘made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Phil. 2.7). There are infancy gospels describing various miracles that Jesus was alleged to have performed in his childhood. They are non-canonical and thus can’t be trusted. However, we know that Jesus was a bit of a rebel when it came to doing good, as demonstrated by healing people on the Sabbath. I think that if he had come across one of his school friends, who had died in a sudden accident, he wouldn’t walk by on the other side – setting aside his healing power until his adult ministry – I think he would have stepped in when required as he started to exercise his unlimited quantity of gifts from the Holy Spirit.

Psalm 35:1-10

King David calls for God to fight with him and disgrace his enemies. This is rather in contrast to the New Testament where Jesus tells us to bless our enemies. However, our lives are probably a lot easier than King David, who had powerful enemies who wanted to depose and kill him.

King David’s enemies were trying to trap him without cause and he simply asks that they sow what they have reaped; that they are suddenly overtaken by ruin and fall into their own pit. This doesn’t seem unreasonable.

Sometimes we have to pray an aggressive prayer. If you have a boss who is making you miserable at work and trying to unfairly trap you, use your authority in Christ to bind them (in Jesus’ name) and pray for them to be moved on. Also pray for them and their families to be blessed in every way and come to a full measure of faith in Christ.

We can pray both an Old Testament prayer to foil our enemies and a New Testament one to bless them.

Picture: Giovanni Bellini, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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