Before today was Ground Hog's Day, before it was The Presentation of our Lord, before it was The Presentation of our Lord and the Purification of Mary, it was Hypapante which is Greek for meeting and it refers to the meeting of our Lord and Simeon. Hypapante was observed in the Jerusalem church already in 380 A.D..
This meeting takes place in the shadow of the cross. "Shadow of the Cross" is the title of the painting I've used for the bulletin cover. It's an 1873 painting by Holman Hunt. The color version is more vivid and worth the Googling. It's a tableau. Mary is going through the marvelous treasure given the Christ-child by the Magi. But she turns and sees the shadow of the crucified Jesus displayed on the wall, a stark contrast from all the worldly wealth. (Webb, A., One Thousand New Sermon Illustrations, 200). The shadow is cast by a young Jesus working as a carpenter, see the tools of His trade to the right. Jesus is stretching after sawing wood and His shadow falls on the horizontal piece of wood where His tools hang which looks like the beam of the cross from which He will hang. He is in the prime of manly life, but that shadow casts a pall and even though we can't see Mary's face, we feel her shudder.
Originally this festival was called simply "Meeting" because it celebrated Simeon and Baby Jesus meeting, but the backstory is where you see the shadow. We know this is 40 days after Christmas, hence February 2nd, because that's when a mother having given birth was mandated to go to the Temple to be purified (Lev. 12:1-6). The Presentation of the firstborn son had no mandated timeframe. It was where 5 shekels were paid to redeem his life from destruction (Num. 18:15-16; Ex. 13:2). Mary and Joseph decided to do the two in the same trip. The Presentation is front and center in this festival; the Purification is the shadow. Mary gave birth to a holy Child, yet she had to be purified as if she had given birth to sinful one, so human was gestation, labor, and delivery, so much was Jesus in our place. Doesn't 2 Cor. 5:21 say God the Father made the Son "to be sin for our sake"? So, don't go all feminist here thinking: see the O.T. is sexist; it thinks of femininity as evil in itself. No, as woman is the fount of life, and that life is now fallen because of Adam's sin, she must be purified because every birth of sinful life defiles her. Giving birth to a daughter did so doubly.
The shadow of the cross is indicated because even though she has been told by the angel she will give birth to the Holy One, the Son of God, she still has been defiled, and then Simeon deepens the shadow. Her Son will cause not just the rise of many but the fall and so He will be as sign to be spoken against. And on top of this a sword, the word for the great, Roman broadsword, will pierce her own soul too, and the too, is most painful as all you mom's know, because it means Jesus will also be pierced.
Nevertheless, Jesus and Simeon on this festival called Hypapante (Meeting), are well-met. "Hail-fellow-well-met" was a 16th century friendly, informal greeting (Merriam-Webster), but it could be used to describe someone who was over the top in his effort to make friends (Stack Exchange). Stephen King in his Dark Tower series uses well-met' to say good has come from our meeting. And a world of good, no a world of redemption, comes from the meeting of Simeon and Jesus.
His parents are there to do for Him according to the Law. They're going to pay the 5 shekels so Jesus is not devoted to destruction. All first-born of unclean animals were redeemed; the first-born of clean were not; they were offered as a sacrifice to the Lord. All first-born of men were redeemed, none were devoted to destruction (Nu. 17: 14-17). Follow the text: It says, "Moved by the Holy Spirit, Simeon went into the Temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took Him in his harms", thus preventing them from redeeming Him, thus devoting this first-born of God to destruction. This fact is highlighted by the text closing, "When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law" leaving out the for Him.' They hadn't given the redemption price for Him, but devoted Him to destruction. Had Jesus not been the whole world would be. Had He been redeemed we not only wouldn't be, but couldn't be. Because holy Jesus was devoted to be a wrath removing sacrifice for the sins of the world, the world was redeemed.
Simeon knows in seeing Jesus he sees the Lord's salvation, but he also knows that saving us means the cross for Jesus. The sword of judgement that should fall on us is going to fall on Him and His mother will feel that pain in a way no one else can. A very old Anna, also sees this. Jesus not being redeemed means He's the Redeemer, so that's why she speaks about Jesus "to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem." And that's why 12 years from now, Jesus is not wrong to expect that His mother and step-father should know that He would be about His heavenly Father's business. They were wrong to think that He sinned by staying behind in Jerusalem at Passover. No, He belonged in His Father's house going about the family business which was redeeming humanity by not just suffering a guilty death but by living a perfect life. So, Jesus stays for the full teaching that went on during Passover. He didn't leave early. He went to Bible class; He went to midweek services. He was completely faithful in place of all us faithless ones. Hebrews says this: "Christ is faithful as a Son over God's house" (3:6).
This festival of Hypapante (Meeting) is a celebration of Simeon and Jesus being well-met because Simeon, humanly speaking, preserves Jesus for suffering, damning, and dying on the cross for our redemption. The Purification of Mary shows us Jesus was in our place from the womb, but the Presentation is what really matters as shown by our post-Communion canticle. There's literally no end to the words a congregation could say, sing, chant after celebrating the Body and Blood of Jesus in their midst once more. Since the 300's, it's been the words Simeon sang upon first meeting Jesus. In 1996 I heard a sermon on our text in my home LCMS church. Not once did the pastor make a connection between Simeon's song and our communing. Do you?
As Simeon saw with his own eyes the Lord's Salvation in the Person of the Baby Jesus He was holding in His arms, so we no less see with our eyes Him in Holy Communion. Understand this: the crowds in the Temple saw nothing but an old guy holding an ordinary baby. Even Mary and Joseph "marveled" at what Simeon said about Jesus. That word translated marveled' comes from the word for "looking on a spectacle." Even with what they had seen and heard so far - angels, visions, worshiping shepherds - this Meeting is over the top. And so with us, while others, even other Christians, see nothing more here than bread and wine and a sign of Jesus, a memorial of what He has done, a remembering of His sacrifice, we see what Simeon saw; we hold Whom Simon did, and we go one better. As with every sin offering of the Old Testament Church, you don't get the benefits of it unless you eat it, so we eat His Body and Drink His blood present now in our time and space.
The whole Divine Service channels you to this point. After the Words of Institution, that is, after the Bread is now Body and the Wine is now Blood, the pastor places His hand on the altar and turns to the congregation and says: "The peace of the Lord be with you always." What's now on that altar enables him to make that blanket promise to the entire congregation. Luther called it a public absolution of all sinners. What do you chant next? That 4th century hymn, the Angus Dei, which adores the Lamb of God now present on the altar, in the pastor's hands, in your hands, in your mouth. At the altar, the bowing, the kneeling, the bowing when we leave are all confessing we are in the presence of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Don't be surprised that so many, even among Christians, don't get this. In our text only two old people, whom the world probably paid very little attention to, did. The wonder is that anyone at all gets this. It's only by the grace of God that your eyes can see the Lord's Salvation in what looks to be nothing more than Bread and Wine. But seeing means you can depart in peace.
Only if you're not paying attention, can you miss this peace. Once the Lord is in our time and place again with forgiveness, life and salvation, the pastor says to the whole congregation: "The peace of the Lord be with you always." The hymn of adoration to the Lord present in Bread and Wine closes with the prayer "Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world, grant us Thy peace." And that prayer is answered. Every single table the pastor dismisses after they've eaten Jesus' Body and drank His Blood is told, "Depart in peace." And if you believe that, if you've received that peace you say, "Amen!" Then the service closes with the pastor putting on you the Lord's 3,600 year old blessing of the Triune God: The Lord bless thee; the Lord make His face shine upon thee; the Lord give thee peace."
Simeon meeting Jesus and saving Him for the destruction that means our redemption changes everything. It leads to peace between God and us: He's put away His wrath; He's signed a peace treaty in His Son's blood. This great change can be seen in the N.T. ceremony that came from the O.T. ceremony of the Purification of women after childbirth. It was called the "Churching of Women." The O.T. we saw required a sin offering after giving birth (Lev. 12:6). The N.T. rite, Churching of Women, is mentioned in the 600's by Augustine of Canterbury and is found in Anglican, Catholic, and Lutheran Churches, but it's not about purifying them, making a sin offering for bringing sinful life into the world. It's a public thanksgiving in church by women after childbirth (Lutheran Cyclopedia). In the OT, childbirth met with defilement to point to the need for a redeemer, having met the Redeemer, the NT Church meets childbirth with thanksgiving. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Presentation of our Lord (20200202); Luke 2: 22-40