The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
February 11, 2018
The Presentation of our Lord
The story is told of a West Texas town near El Paso. The time was the 1890's when cowboys were still in fashion. Good and evil were played out in sharp contrasts. Everyone knew who the good guys were and who were the bad guys.
One day the word went out that big John was coming to town. Big bad John. No one in the town had actually ever met John. But they knew about him. They knew that he was big and they knew that he was bad. Immediately, they began to prepare for his arrival. Windows were boarded up. Wagons were loaded with their most valuable goods, and sent off in the opposite directions. Everyone that is, except the saloon keeper. He was new in town. He figured there was no way he could move his stock and besides, he was curious. He wanted to meet this man.
Soon, he saw a cloud of dust beginning to rise far down the road leading to El Paso. The cloud grew and at last he saw the figure of a man riding a Brahma Bull. The man was tall, the man looked mean. He road into town and without hesitation pulled up short in front of the saloon. He strode inside, sized up the saloon keeper and ordered a bottle of whiskey. The saloon owner gave him the bottle with shaking hands. In three gulps the bottle was drained. Would you like another, sir? the keeper asked in a frightened voice. The man reached across the bar, grabbed him by the throat and lifted him level with his face. “Can’t stay, son,” he growled, “big John is coming to town.”
In the old west of 125 years ago, life was less complex —at least it seems that way to us as we look upon it from our perspective. What was good and what was evil, seemed to be clearer then than it is now. You knew where you stood. You knew who the good guys were and those who were not. For every Big bad John there was a Marshall Dillon or Wyatt Earp or Buffalo Bill—who through courage and superior strength were able to triumph over the forces of evil. We still have such mythological heroes today, Superman, Batman, Rambo, the Terminator who stand up to the big bad John's of their world and win.
Things were not that much different in the world of the New Testament. For the Jews, living in Israel, Rome, with all its conquering armies, was clearly the bad guy. The Jews longed to be left alone, they wanted to be free. Each night when they put their children to bed, Jewish mothers or fathers told their children the stories of the heroes of their past. They spoke of Moses who had delivered their forebears who had been slaves in Egypt. They told of Joshua who had made of them an army to conquer the land of promise. They sang of David the king who had made of them a great nation. Some day, they assured their children, God would raise up a descendant of David who, like Moses, would set them free from Rome; who, like Joshua, would restore their land and who, like David, would be their king.
Years went by and the Jewish people lived in hope. One day they heard of a strange man who was baptizing people in the Jordan river. He lived in the desert. He ate locusts and wild honey. He wore camel's hair and a leather girdle. He was big. He was good. His name was John. When he spoke people believed in him. Surely, they thought, this was the long-awaited hero who would drive out the enemy and set them free. But John told them he was not the person they had been looking for. He had come to prepare the way. Another was coming. Someone, even more powerful, who would defeat their enemies.
Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Presentation. Like Hannah in the Old Testament who brought her son Samuel, Mary now brings the child Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to be presented unto God.
Like the other people of her day, Mary has a clear picture in her mind of the one who was to come.
Remember her song in response to the angel's news that she had been chosen by God to bear the Messiah. "My soul doth magnify the Lord and my heart rejoices in God my Savior, for he hath shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and the rich he has sent empty away. But he hath remembered his servant Israel." Mary's image of the role of her son was not unlike that of Matt Dillon or Wyatt Earp or Superman.
But we know that our Lord did not understand that to be his role. Mary was upset when she found him in the Temple as a lad age twelve. She did not understand when he at first refused to perform his first miracle at the wedding in Cana. She was embarrassed when early in his ministry he was found to be in confrontation with the Pharisees. She watched in agony as her son was nailed to a cross. Our Lord did not fit her image of a superhero.
John had to struggle with this too. He was put in prison shortly after he had introduced Jesus as the Messiah to his followers. He knew he was facing death. In prison he kept getting disturbing reports. Jesus was eating with tax collectors, those Jewish traitors who collaborated with Rome. He was speaking to prostitutes. He was breaking the Sabbath, Jesus was teaching people to love their enemies. This was not John’s image of the hero who would set his people free. Finally, he could stand it no longer. He sent some of his few remaining disciples to Jesus with a question. "Are you the one who is to come, or do we look for another?"
Both Mary and John had to learn that God's ways are not always our ways. In presenting Jesus at the temple, Mary had given her son back to God. Our Lord would bring victory from bondage but not in the way she had anticipated
We have to learn that lesson too. Often, we have to learn it over and over again. So many times we are faced with circumstances that seem to entrap us and we long for the superhero to come and free us from those entanglements. So often our plight seems so unjust. We pray to God and our prayers seem to fall on ears of stone. Like Mary in presenting her son, we have to learn to present ourselves God. Like John in prison, we have to learn to entrust ourselves into God's care. Like them, we have to discover this is not weakness but courageous strength. Like them, we will discover that in letting go of those ideas, we are freed from the shackles of our past and can enter into the abundant life our Lord extends to us.
In our Gospel today, Simeon, an old man, and Anna, an old woman, have gone to the temple all their lives. They too, were expecting the Messiah. When Mary came they recognized their hero in the face of a helpless baby. It is my prayer today that we too may look upon Him and live. Amen.