I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice (Luke 2: 22-38)
Sermon by Pastor Mark Siler
Thankfully, we no longer carry out animal sacrifice in the temple. However, some people of faith would argue that we must understand the sacrificial systems of our day if we are to be followers of Jesus. Liberation theologians argue that we need to recognize how those most harmed by the absence of the Kingdom of God are sacrificed daily as we cling to the status quo. That lines up with something I read recently. Apparently, the most accurate predictor of things like life expectancy, incarceration, chronic physical and mental health conditions is the zip code into which we are born. Trinitarian theologians argue that we sacrifice the essential nature of God every time we try to appease God with more this or more that, always coming up short, as if God is perpetually dissatisfied with who we are.
Our text today shows Mary, Joseph and the newborn Jesus caught up in the sacrificial systems of their day. But then there is a holy interruption. Simeon and Anna disrupt it all and something new is revealed about what it means to relate to God in the way that God longs to relate to us. So as we hear the scripture of Jesus’ presentation in the temple, our question is this, what do Simeon and Anna teach us about being in right relationship with God?
My readiness to be a father was in question right from the beginning. After a long day of labor, over 19 years ago, my courageous wife gave birth to our first child, a daughter. We decided not to know the gender ahead of time. When she finally emerged, I shouted, “Oh my God, it’s a boy!”. The kind nurse quietly leaned in and said, “Umm that’s the umbilical cord. It’s actually a girl.” In almost the same breath and with equal enthusiasm, I exclaimed to my wife, “Scratch that, Oh My God, it’s a girl!” Truth is, the gender mattered nothing to us. How could it? We were in the presence of beauty, overcome with awe, awash in divine mystery. It was clear. We could see with the eyes of Simeon and Anna – to use Simeon’s words, salvation before us, a light, the glory of God.
We in the church love it when babies are baptized or presented. It’s fun to watch the response of the congregation. You can see and feel hearts melting and opening. A generous and loving tenderness takes over the room, especially during the part when the minister walks the baby out into the congregation.
That is the place where God meets us and where we meet each other as God intends. The sacrificial systems simply keep us believing that God is distant and disappointed and they keep us shaming ourselves and each other. But Simeon and Anna knew that God is not that. They recognized the self-giving vulnerable God in the newborn Jesus.
Given their age, I think we can assume that Simeon and Anna did not get to see the ministry of Jesus, some 30 years later. They did not get to see what happens when God goes around treating adults the same way we easily treat newborns, with hearts open and tender, filled with the easy mercy of God. They didn’t see Jesus going to the prostitute, to the leper, to the blind beggar, to the Pharisee, the tax collector, to everyone, saying, “O My God, it’s you, salvation before me, a light, the glory of God.” Underneath our defenses, below our guardedness, we meet God and each other in that vulnerable and holy place. It is there that we can both hear and share the words, “O My God, it’s you!” It’s there that the kingdom of God, where zip codes are only used to predict the delivery of mail, is realized.