Today is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple – big deal, right? Actually – it IS a big deal, but in order to appreciate that – as usual – we gotta dig back into a bit of history – so put on your seat belts ‘cause I’ll be moving fast.
To put this into perspective, do you remember when the wall was knocked down between East and West Berlin? It was BIG deal – I remember the night it happened. Now for those too young, you may not even remember the event – or appreciate why it was such a big deal…how, after WWII, families were torn apart as the wall was built – and thousands of people died trying to cross the manmade border. You don’t remember all the years of the cold war and how the world lived in fear of a nuclear war. But that night, it ended… it was HUGE. That’s a view of what happened in the temple TODAY.
Apply that to your own life – think about something you waited a LONG time for – like getting married – or graduating from school – or having kids – or retiring…. Or MOTHERS – you waiting 9 months for your child to arrive. Think of THAT moment and how you felt when whatever you were waiting for finally arrived. Keep that in mind as you listen to the Gospel.
Don’t know if you noticed that Luke is very particular about the number of days for some reason. He starts today with “when the days for their purification were complete’…. What’s that mean? When a Jewish woman had a baby boy, on the 7th day he would be circumcised – then the mother was still considered unclean for 33 days. That’s 40 days, right – so what happened 40 days ago today? Christmas – right. What happened 9 months before then… obviously, the annunciation on March 25 when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary telling her she was gonna have a baby. What happened 6 months before that? The angel Gabriel appeared to Zechariah announcing that Elizabeth would give birth to John the Baptist. Count that up- 40 days plus 9 months plus 6 months…. That is 490 days. Anybody here recognize the significance of 490? Didn’t think so… but if we were in 1st century Israel, EVERYbody would raise their hands because 490 is a SIGNIFICANT number.
To understand why, this is where I have to give a quick history lesson: 600 years prior to Jesus’ birth, the prophet Ezekiel saw the glory of God LEAVE the temple! You may remember that the Glory Cloud was a physical presence of God that was settled on the Arch of the Covenant, which was housed in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. But that day, Ezekiel saw the glory cloud lift and exit to the east. It was devastating! God had left his people! All hope left with him… and not long after that, Babylon came in and destroyed the Temple and exiled many people to Babylon. Yes, all hope was gone.
Until, a few years later, in Babylon, Gabriel appeared to Daniel and told him that the glory of God would reappear in the temple in 7 weeks of 70 years…. Yeah it’s a weird way to speak, but I won’t get into that. What is 7 weeks of 70 years? ….7x70= 490. Recognize that number: 490? It’s hard to figure out the exactly when the 490 years started, but many people believed that the time of fulfillment was now! In fact, Herod had just rebuilt the temple 20 years prior, but they were waiting for the glory of God to come back. The Holy of Holies was an empty room – no arc of the covenant – no glory cloud.
That’s why people like Simeon and Anna were hanging around the temple every day. The 490 years were up… the glory was going to reappear in the temple any day now… and TODAY it did. The Lord, Jesus, came back into the temple for the first time in 490 years….and just to make the point clearer, Luke’s timeline shows that this event was on the 490th day of his story. Luke wanted to make SURE that everyone recognized that THIS was the fulfillment of the prophesy to Daniel! This was a huge day… hope was restored. God had come back among his chosen people.
Big deal, right? Why should we care…
Because the underlying message is that God fulfills His promises. He may seem to delay – but his timing is perfect. Even when hope seems completely lost, we can wait for God to fulfill his promises.
Apply this to your own life: was there a time you were without hope and waiting for God to intervene? Maybe that’s you right now… your health, your marriage, your job, your kids, your future – so many uncertainties – things that give us a pit in our stomach. It’s not supposed to be like this, God – when will you act? When will you come? I don’t have the answers. Hopefully each of us HAS recognized those moments when God DID let his glory shine and we can put our hope in that. Regardless – even when it seems God has forgotten us – we can put our trust in His promise to be with us always.
Here’s a short story to maybe make that point clearer:
The king of a certain country was growing old, and he had no son to succeed him. He announced to his people that he would choose an heir to the throne from among the young men of the kingdom by holding a competition. On the appointed day, hundreds – maybe thousands of men of all ages showed up. Various tests and trials were presented - and some failed while others passed. Then other tests and more trials – and each time some were rejected till at last only three were left.
The competition continued for several more hours - They were put through test after test, but all seemed equally able to meet them, so the king announced through his heralds that on the next day the matter would be decided by a foot-race. The course was marked off, the judges were at their places, and all was ready. Just before the start of the race, a man came up to each of the contestants and said secretly to him, "The king is taking special note of you. Do not run when the gun fires, but wait until the king gives you a special signal." The three took their places eager for the race. Three-two-one… the gun was fired…, one bounded forward quickly, then hesitated and stopped – apparently remembering the instruction given; but by then another man sprang forward after him, not wanting to be left behind – so the first man started sprinting again and they ran for the finish line as fast as they could. The third man stood looking anxiously at the king and at the two runners, murmuring to himself, "I can make it yet, I can make it yet." The king gazed at the runners and gave no heed to the one still standing. The waiting man thought himself forgotten and his heart sank as he realized that it would be impossible for him to win the race.
The two runners ran on at top speed, reaching the finish line neck and neck. They were brought back, and all three stood before the king. To the first he said, "Were you not told not to run until I gave you the signal? Why then did you run?"
"I was so excited, I forgot," said the man.
Of the second he asked the same question. His reply was, "I thought it would be but a moment till you would give the signal, and seeing the other guy running I ran also."
To the third he said, "And why did not you run?"
"Because you did not give me the signal, sir," he answered.
"My son," said the king, "I knew that you could run, but I did not know that you could wait."
So the young man found that the test was not a test of doing but of waiting.