February 2, 40 days after Christmas, has long been set aside as the day the Church celebrates the day that Baby Jesus was brought to the Temple. His parents had come to the Temple for Purification following childbirth and Jesus was brought along on that day to be Presented to God.
What an amazing day that was! Mary and Joseph had walked several miles from their home in Nazareth to Jerusalem, with the world’s Redeemer in their arms. First they had been met by this old Holy Man, Simeon, who has been led to them by the Holy Spirit; and then they were met by the elderly widow Anna, who also shared in this “Temple Epiphany”. She also had been led to the Holy Family by the Holy Spirit and she sets an example for us all when she praises God and speaks about this child to all who share her longing for redemption.
Simeon had been waiting for years for this Messiah who was promised — the One who would come and deliver Israel – the Consolation of Israel. He had previously spent many years in prayer when one day he heard the voice of God. God promised Simeon that he would not die until He had seen the Messiah. And it just so happened, that the Holy Spirit brought Simeon to the Temple at the very moment when Mary and Joseph arrived with Jesus. Like a watchman who has finally spotted what he has looked for for such a long time, Simeon takes the Baby in his arms and blessed Him. This blessing-prayer is called the “Nunc Dimittis” (which is Latin for “Now you are dismissing [your servant]. It speaks of “seeing salvation” of “Light for revelation to the Gentiles” and of “glory for your people Israel” – all Epiphany themes.
During the Epiphany Season, we celebrate the GROWING light as what has been largely hidden becomes more widely known. During Epiphany we see ever more clearly WHO it is who “pitched His tent among us” at Christmas, even though, on the day Jesus was presented to His Father in the Temple, the only people who recognize that the long-promised Messiah has finally “pitched His tent” among us are two very old, devout people.
Our Processional Hymn for this Sunday is “Songs of Thankfulness and Praise”, that wonderful Epiphany hymn that touches on so many of the Bible stories that the church hears during Epiphany. (Those of you who are subscribers to my blog will need to click on the title of the blog to see and hear the YouTube videos of these hymns.) This hymn reminds us of the star that guided Gentiles to their future King. It reminds us of a voice that identified Jesus as “My Beloved Son”. It reminds us of pots brimming with wine that revealed Christ’s miraculous power. And it uses the phrase “God in flesh made manifest” over and over. In fact, throughout this wonderful hymn, the word “manifest” falls over and over like a hammer or a drumbeat — manifest, manifest. This beautiful hymn was written by Christopher Wordsworth who famously said, “The first duty of a hymn-writer is to teach sound doctrine and thus to save souls.” Those are Mike’s and Jackie’s and my sentiments exactly! Songs of thankfulness and praise, Jesus, Lord, to Thee we raise; Manifested by the star to the sages from afar, Branch of royal David’s stem in Thy birth at Bethlehem; Anthems be to Thee addressed, God in flesh made manifest. // Manifest at Jordan’s stream, Prophet, Priest, and King supreme; and at Cana wedding guest in Thy Godhead manifest; Manifest in pow’r divine, changing water into wine; Anthems be to Thee addressed, God in flesh made manifest. // Manifest in making whole palsied limbs and fainting soul; manifest in valiant fight, quelling all the devil’s might; manifest in gracious will, ever bringing good from ill; Anthems be to Thee addressed, God in flesh made manifest.// Grant us grace to see Thee, Lord, present in Thy holy Word; Grace to imitate Thee now and be pure, as pure art Thou; that we might become like Thee at Thy great epiphany, and may praise Thee, ever blest, God in flesh made manifest.” If it were up to me, the last line would never have been modernized and would still read “God in man made manifest.” Also, the original fourth verse would still be included, “Sun and moon shall darkened be, stars shall fall, the heavens shall flee; Christ will then like lightning shine, all will see His glorious sign; All will then the trumpet hear, All will see the Judge appear; Thou by all wilt be confessed, God in man made manifest.” That omitted verse changes from looking at the ways Jesus has been manifest to the way that He will be manifest when He returns to judge. If it were up to me, this fourth verse would still be in there because we look forward to Christ’s final manifestation. But it’s not up to me. Pity.
The lessons for today are 1 Samuel 1:21-28, Hebrews 2:14-18; Luke 2:22-32.
The Hymn of the Day is “In His Temple Now Behold Him.” It was written by Henry Pye, an Anglican priest who wrote this hymn (and many others) for use by his congregation. It is a wonderful hymn; and there aren’t very many hymns that perfectly fit the Gospel for this Sunday. But this one does. However, what I want to call your attention to is the tune to which it is sung: Westminster Abbey. Those of you who are Anglophiles and who watch the pageantry of the worship services for the British Royal Family on TV will probably already know this hymn tune. In Great Britain this tune is ordinarily paired with the words to “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation.” We American Lutherans already have a hymn tune that we love paired with “Christ is Made the Sure Foundation,” so Westminster Abbey has been paired with the words to “In His Temple Now Behold Him.” If you are not an Anglophile and don’t read music, fret not. This tune is so terrific that by the third verse you will be belting it out as if you’ve known it all your life. Plus, I should mention that this tune is by Henry Purcell, an extremely important English composer. In fact, Henry Purcell is generally considered to be one of the greatest English conposers. The hymn is wonderful! Too bad this hymn only works for Presentation of Our Lord, so we sing it so rarely! In His temple now behold Him, See the long expected Lord, Ancient prophets had foretold Him, God has now fulfilled His word. Now to praise Him, His redeemed shall break forth with one accord. // In the arms of her who bore Him, Virgin pure, behold Him lie while His aged saints adore Him ere in perfect faith they die. Alleluia, Alleluia! Lo, th’incarnate God Most High. // Jesus, by Your Presentation, when they blessed You, weak and poor, make us see Your great salvation, seal us with Your promise sure; and present us in Your glory to Your Father, cleansed and pure.
The Distribution Hymn is “At the Lamb’s High Feast We Sing.” (At HOly Trinity we sing all 8 verses.)
The Recessional Hymn is the Nunc Dimittis: “Oh Lord, now let Your servant depart in heav’nly peace, for I have seen the glory of Your redeeming grace: A light to lead the Gentiles unto Your holy hill, the glory of Your people, Your chosen Israel. // Then grant that I may follow Your gleam, O glorious Light, till earthly shadows scatter, and faith is changed to sight; Till raptured saints shall gather upon that shining shore, where Christ the blessed daystar, shall light them evermore.” What a perfect way to end the Presentation of Our Lord worship service — well, almost perfect. This hymn is really too short to serve as a good recessional: we really have a lot of people up the the chancel who need to recess. But just watch! This will be no problem for Jackie. 🙂 She’s so good at what she does.
See you Sunday.