Jerusalem a spiritual rather than political question- The Presentation of the Lord 2018

Friends, today we gather to celebrate the Lord’s presentation in the temple. Mary and Joseph presented the child Jesus in the temple forty days after his birth, in accordance with the law. This has two different parts. The first is a reminder of the liberation from Egypt (Exodus 13: 12-15). "You shall redeem all the firstborn of man among your sons" (Exodus 13:13). The second is the cleansing of women after they have given birth to children, we can read it in verse 12. "When a woman is giving birth to a child and it is a boy child she has born, she shall be unclean for seven days." After the child's circumcision, the woman will stay home for thirty-three days. Then she shall offer a year-old lamb as a burnt offering, and a young dove, or a turtle dove for a sin offering. If the parents cannot afford this, she shall bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons, one for a burnt offering and one for a sin offering. Because Mary and Joseph were not rich, they had to take the option for the poor.

Much of Christianity has lost the understanding that one of the best ways to enrich their faith in the Messiah (Jesus) is to understand the different Lord's celebrations. Since Christmas we have celebrated some of these magnificent solemnities. These celebrations of the Lord allow us to see the great picture of God's plan of salvation for the world so that you can begin to find the Messiah Yeshua in every one of them. Today the feast of the Lord's celebration in the temple is celebrated.

The red thread in today's liturgy is the meeting: Symeon and Hanna meet the Child Jesus, the world meets its saviour. A hallmark of both Symeon and Hanna was their ability to keep their faith alive and youthful dream to experience God's deliverance. Like the people during Jesus' days waiting for liberation, we also await our liberation. Today I will not be talking about Symeon and Hanna who often are the focus whenever this gospel text is read. However, I will highlight the origins of the Lord's presentation and the role of Jerusalem, YHVH's Zion, played in it and still play for the world's salvation. Therefore, I think Christians should not be indifferent and uninterested when the fate of Jerusalem is being decided. We are excited about how God moves, and we are also grateful for how he works in the hearts and lives of all people who prepare to hear the message we share with them.

In the Old Testament, God commanded his people to present every first born male child in the temple forty days after their births. The purpose was to thank God and ask for cleansing for the mother and the child. Therefore, today’s feast is also referred to as the virgin’s purification.

Last week Wednesday, January 31, Israel celebrated a new year (Rosh Hashanah) - one of the four new years in the Hebrew calendar: Rosh HaShanah La'Ilanot - New Year of Trees. It is popularly referred to as Tu B'Shvat, which means the 15th calendar month, Shevat. In Israel, the Jewish people spend this day on the revival of the land by planting trees - an idea near God's heart, for himself planted trees! "Now the Lord God planted a garden in the east, in Eden, and there he set the man whom he had created" (Genesis 2: 8).

On this day, people of all ages, young and old, especially farmers and kibbutz residents, and schoolchildren, plant trees across Israel. The Torah (the first five books of the Bible) is regarded as a tree of life in Jewish society, a source of divine nutrition and fertility. Because of this, when the Torah returns to the ark (its protective cover) during a service in the synagogue, the congregation sings Proverbs 3:18: "She is a tree of life for those who grab her; those who hold her will come to be blessed. "Christmas celebrates the mystery of God's coming into the world as human.

The apostle John tried to help the Jewish people understand that the tree of this life, the word of God, which the hold in their arms - cannot be contained in a parchment that is housed in a protective box. The tree of life became flesh in man's form!: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. "(John 1: 1, 14). As the word of God in flesh, Jesus spent much of his time declaring himself through words and miraculous encounters (even raising the dead) that he is the source of eternal life.

Two weeks ago, our parish organized a lecture in which Rabbi Peter Borenstein was the speaker. In Judaism, the word faith (enuma) is lacking as it is used in Christianity. God does not call people to ‘believe’ in him in Judaism but to obey his words and live as his directs.  Judaism is in this light an action-oriented religion.

When people agree on something, they write a contract, where both parties sign. God's agreement with his people Israel is signed by the people giving back every male firstborn who is dedicated to the Lord through circumcision. This means that when a Jewish family allows to circumcise the firstborn son, they accept the covenant or contract of God with them. The circumcision is thus a sign indicating relationship with God.

Originally, the Jewish firstborns were the priestly class. They were chosen in the service of God when they were spared from the first-born's plague that struck Egypt. But when the Jews - firstborn included - served the golden calf, the firstborn lost its status. The priesthood was transferred to the only tribe who did not participate in the golden calf, the Levites, and especially Aaron's children. Since God is the first being, it is appropriate that firstborn be sanctified to Him. Ever since then, all male Israeli firstborns must redeem themselves from this service in a pidyon haben ceremony.

The first seven plagues (makot) that God sent Egypt could not convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites from slavery. Therefore, God sends the most devastating and last three plagues: grasshoppers, the darkness and death of the firstborn. After the last plague, Pharaoh finally gave in, which triggers the exodus of the Hebrews. But what was the purpose of the ten plagues? Was it to force Pharaoh to let the Israelites go free? Perhaps, but God is fully capable of liberating his people without the permission of a king. With the tenth plague, the firstborn males of the Egyptians are killed, and the Israelites received their liberation. Even the firstborn among the cattle died. The Israelites broke up from Ramses to Sukkot on foot after living in Egypt 430 years. Every firstborn male shall be sanctified to the Lord, which means to be redeemed because with the strong hand God freed the children of Israel by letting every firstborn male and cattle of the Egyptians be killed. The angel of death passed over every house where the Jews lived signed with the blood of the lamb. Therefore, today’s feast is a reminder of the rescue from Egypt.

In the story, we understand that God does not see the Egyptians simply as an enemy to be defeated, rather he is committed to communicating something that is crucial to them: "I will judge all the gods of Egypt, I am the Lord." (Exodus 12:12). The plagues demonstrate the supremacy of God and dominance of God over all the fake gods of Egypt. When Moses first asked Pharaoh to let the Israelites go, he asked, "Who is YHVH, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go?" (Deuteronomy 5: 2). The God of Israel wants everyone to know who He is. And he wanted to make sure that Pharaoh and all of Egypt also knew him. He told Pharaoh that he sent the powerful plague of hail, "so that you [Pharaoh] may know that there is none like me in all the earth" (Exodus 9:14)

The second temple destroyed in 70 A.D. by the Romans allows us to think of the conflict between Israel and Palestine over Zion (Jerusalem) the site of the first and second temples. President Trump recently acknowledged Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and took the decision to move US Embassy to Jerusalem.  Many people around the world, even the UN opposed and protested this decision. In a world of post- truth, where facts give way for falsity and sentiments, Christians should not forget that it was in the temple of Zion, that Jesus was presented, and Symeon and Hanna spoke prophetic words about him. The temple was in East Jerusalem where Palestine today wants to make its capital. This capital would include the Temple Mount, where Abraham was to offer Isaac (Genesis 22), where King Solomon built the first temple (2 Chronicles 3-6), and where Jesus proclaimed to be the Messiah when he stood in Solomon's columns in the second Temple during Hanukkah feasts (John 10: 22-30).

Almost 700 years after the destruction of the second Jewish temple by the Romans in 70 A.D, the Temple Mount became a sacred place for Muslims and a disdain for faith in Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. By the end of the 7th century, Islamic leaders built the ‘Dome of the Rock’ (Al Aqsa Mosque) at the place where the first and second temples once stood. It was originally a small prayer house erected by Umar, the second caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate. This became the third holiest site in Islam and is in the Old City of Jerusalem.  Engraved in that building is the words: "God has no Son." These words represent the spirit of antichrist: "Every spirit that does not admit Yeshua is not from God. And this is the Spirit of Antichrist, as you have heard that it is coming. And now it is already in the world." (1 John 4: 3). The mosque has gone through many phases of destruction and rebuilding. Jerusalem was captured by the Crusaders in 1099. they used the mosque as a palace and the Dome of the Rock as a church. Following the recapture of Jerusalem by Saladin in 1187, the mosque was restored its function.  The war of 1948 put Jerusalem once again under Israel who control the Old City where the mosque remains under the administration of Jordanian and Palestine. In this on-going conflict between Israel and Palestine, we see that right to land is a critical to peace. Palestine claim that they are the descendants of Canaanites where inhabited the land before the arrival of Israel. On the other hand, Israel mean that Jerusalem was their capital city for 2000 years established by king David before the Jewish dispersion.

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob said, "I have chosen Jerusalem so that my name may be there" (2 Chronicles 6: 6). And the prophets have declared that Jerusalem is the mountain of YHVH (Isaiah 2: 3; Micah 4: 2; Zechariah 8: 3). Turkey has undertaken to move its embassy to East Jerusalem as recognition of the same being Palestine's capital. Through this, perhaps the "Gog and Magog's war" described in the scripture (Heb. 38: 9) may already be close by. Who knows may be the destruction of Al Aqsa’s mosque and the reconstruction of the third temple! If we are Christians in reality, then we must take our faith and act on the belief of our faith. "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish." (John 10: 27-28). "There is no one else" through whom we are to be saved (Acts 4:12). Therefore, I see the struggle for Jerusalem as a spiritual struggle rather than a political issue. Chikezie Onuoha MSP

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