It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason, Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying,
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.”
“I will put my trust in him.”
“Here am I and the children whom God has given me.”
Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,
“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”
And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.
Christ, in order to bring about our salvation, became just like us. Doesn’t that just sound a little wrong? When we think about ourselves, and we think about Jesus, we will typically put a bit of a crowbar between us – separating out he, the incarnate word of God, and we the people who are lucky enough to have heard his name. Still, Christ – though still fully God – did become fully human. How does that work? I don’t think we can really know – much like the trinity where 1+1+1=1, here 1+1=1. The fullness of God, and the fullness of a human person were able to coexist in one body, and continue to do so to this day.
That’s something that’s easy to forget I think. Christ, as we’re told in the Gospels, rose bodily into heaven. This means that at the right hand of God is not just a spiritual being, not just some invisible conception of divinity – but a human being, perfected in death and resurrection – but a human being nonetheless. What a wonderful truth, that beside God, before God at all times, is a reminder of what a human being can be – the perfection of Christ is a physical proof, and a seal to the promise which God offers us in the Gospel of Matthew – “be thou perfect, as your father in heaven is perfect.” Because, it can be said, God only commands what is possible, as such this commandment, to be perfect and the reality of Christ’s resurrection show us that it is really possible for us to be perfected, but only through the action of God.
We are told, in our readings, that Christ saved humanity through becoming one of us. We are told in our Gospel that Christ and his mother did indeed do everything a human being needed to do after being born. Jesus, as the first born of the family – was dedicated at the temple, and an offering made to God in accordance with the Law. It was not just any offering though, it was the offering that only the poorest of people were allowed to make – two small birds.
Christ had a choice, in taking on human flesh he could have been born a prince. Grown up to be king and ruled over the entire world as a physical ruler. Or perhaps been born among merchants, and sent word of his greatness on ships and with caravans. No such decision was made though, Christ was given to Mary – a faithful woman as poor as could be – the wife of tradesmen. The two lived destitute in a backwater village, in a region surrounded on all sides by Gentiles. Jesus chose not just to be human, but to be like the poorest and most marginalized he could be.
Christ would then go on to live a hard life. While being apprenticed to his father Christ seems to have been taken under the wing of his Cousin John. Though we can never be sure, it is likely through working with John that people became to regard Jesus as a Rabbi – a teacher of the Law. Tradition holds that Christ then waited for some years, and after the death of Joseph he began his ministry – first by being baptized by John, and then by being tempted.
We are told that Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to face the devil – and while that is a talk much more suited for Lent, it shows once again that Christ was not immune to temptation – he still engaged with it, the difference being that he was the only person to never give into it. The ministry of Christ was then completely itinerate, he never stopped anywhere for more than a few days. The blisters his feet must have had, the sunburn and the cracked skin that must have covered his face. There is a reason that when the early Christians read in Isaiah, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.” They immediately thought of Jesus.
And what should befall this servant of God, after three years of painful travels, of preaching, of working miracles? A humiliating death on a cross. Surrounded by criminals, mocked and beaten by soldiers. Jesus was so weak when they crucified him, he barely lasted a few hours. In fact, if you read the passion stories, it sounds like he nearly died on the way up the hill. The God of the Universe, the eternal Word who jumpstarted all of creation, finished up a hard life by dying a horrible death.
His mother too, who had followed him all his life, stood by him as he died. “A sword pierced her soul.” The minute that the soldier stabbed Jesus’ lifeless corpse, proving to everyone there that he had died. Think for a moment of Mary, who loved her son more than life, like any mother would. She watched him grow, she cherished every moment with him the scripture says, and even when she didn’t understand – she still was among the disciples who followed him. Now though, she’s lost her baby – her first, miraculous child now lies cold in a nearby tomb. No wonder she woke up early the next day, to try and give him some dignity in his death.
The tomb was empty though, and after a few weeks of teaching his disciples, Christ was brought up into heaven. There he sits, perfect. Looking down on each of us, hearing our prayers, and relating to us when we tell him our problems. It would be one thing if we were told by scripture that Christ suffered in a way we can’t even imagine. In some ways sure he did, in much the same way that you and I, though we may have been hurt similarly – never really have ever gone through the same thing. I lost my grandfather when I was young, maybe you did too – but that loss is unique, as unique as our grandfathers were, as unique as we are. Still though, when Scripture talks about Christ suffering, it’s said in a way that reminds us that Christ knows what we’ve been through.
“Christ, I’m sick, I need to be healed or at least to know I’m taken care of.” A God who was never sick could never know, but Christ did. A God who never feared death could never strengthen those who faced it now, but Christ was in agony in Gethsemane, and he hears us when we cry even now. He suffered not to be above us in how he suffered, but to be with us when we suffer.
Likewise, as Christ is raised up and brought before God – we too are lifted into the company of the Father. Christ, in suffering our suffering let us enter into his life as much as he entered into ours. As Christ descended into our flesh, so we are allowed to be resurrected with Christ. The death of Christ would not be sufficient for us to enter into our rest, unless Christ also rose from the dead. There is no miracle in someone dying, but there is promise and miracle and life in the resurrection of a person. In rising in a perfected physical form, Christ assured we could do the same.
Now we are granted the gift of a divine representative before God. We are told that Christ is not just ruling in heaven and doing nothing. Instead Christ is constantly praying for us, praying with us. When we suffer Christ is able to turn to his Father and say, “See, they suffer as I did. Remember how you wanted to save me when I suffered? How ready you were to send angels to defend me? Do the same for them, give them the help that I surrendered to you.” We have an advocate, a high priest as Hebrews explains, that knows what it’s like to suffer, to die, to weep, to laugh. If God was ever unsure what it was to be human, Christ’s wonderful incarnation and resurrection assured he would know every detail of our lives.
Christ, by entering into our flesh and blood, allows us to become siblings with himself. We are therefore heirs of the resurrection. We are given all the rights, all the gifts, which a child of God are afforded. What are those gifts? What rights do we have? The gifts are all the goodness which grows within us – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We are given a spirit of discernment, not a spirit of fear, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self control.
What are our rights? Well, one could say that we are made co-rulers with Christ. Indeed, we are. However, insofar as we live on this earth we are called to follow Christ in giving up this singular right, we are to be subservient to all people. Giving to whoever asks, serving whoever needs help, and always putting others before ourselves. However, when the world to come arrives, we will be rulers in the Holy City, treated as princes and princesses, royal children in all benefits. In the meantime, we are given a power which surpasses all worldly powers. Namely, the power of unhindered prayer.
We, the church, in heaven and on Earth are given the ability through Christ to boldly approach God. We do not approach God as if we are enemies of God, we are not walking on egg shells when we pray. We are obedient, yes. We work out our salvation, “with fear and trembling,” yes. But at the end of it all God tells us to move forward and to be bold in worship and bold in intercession. “Praise God from whom all blessing flows.” And “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have Mercy.” Are both bold statements, and the unique blessing of Christ’s priesthood allows for us to pray unceasingly, to ask that we may receive.
With Christ in Heaven, who understands what it is to live. With the confidence of Children and Heirs of Promise. With the fullness of our future role as priests and rulers in the Kingdom. With the Boldness of those who fearlessly ask God for whatever needs they have. Let us go forward and worship, this day and always, our God who was willing to become one of us. Let us, through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord, enter in fully into the Kingdom. Amen.