I have seen the Glory

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The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord

I have seen the Glory

        Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.

        Between 1861 and 1865, this country fought a bitter and divisive war within her borders. The difference between this war and others was twofold; one, it was southern states of the union attempting to secede from the northern states and secondly, it was the most devastating loss of life during a war in the history of the United States of America.

        In this war neighbor fought against neighbor, brother fought against brother. The modern tools of war were the latest in the technology of killing people. Cities and crops were razed to the ground insuring death by starvation even after the battle.

        This was not a religious war or even a war against a tyrannical government, but a war to free men, women and children from slavery, hardship and death at the whim of their masters. The northern states of the Union believed in their documents stating the unalienable rights of all peoples granted to them by The Creator, while the southern Confederate States viewed slavery as an inexpensive labor force of a sub-human species.

        The world around this struggling nation was so torn that many faithful Christians believed that it was the end times of war, pestilence and death as depicted in St. John’s Revelation. It was in 1862 when a 42 year old woman was encouraged by a Unitarian minister by the name of James Freeman Clarke to write a fighting song. The woman’s name was Julia Ward Howe and the song is that which we know today as The Battle Hymn of the Republic.

        Mrs. Howe based the song on chapter 17 of the Revelation to St. John and if you are like me, from your youth, you will remember very clearly the words of that first stanza:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;

He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:

His truth is marching on.

[The Battle Hymn of the Republic: Julia Ward Howe, 1862]

            In the depths of neighbor killing neighbor, famine and death, this woman looked to God for the promise of salvation.

            The civil war could be viewed as the war to end slavery in this nation. It could be viewed as the battle to free human beings from the cruelty of evil masters. We may look upon this moment in history as one of humankind’s greatest stumble into the basest kind of sin vowing to never again to fall into that great abyss, but we would only be fooling ourselves.

            You see, we have been in a great war since the Garden of Eden. It was there where our sin led us into a slavery of death under that Master of Evil, Satan. At that time, the chains of sin clamped around our hands and our necks with the metal of pride and disobedience.

            Over the centuries, we have not only been imprisoned to sin, we have reveled in it. Fortunately for us, the unlimited grace of our God and Creator, gave us the promise of salvation through His Only Son. Mrs. Howe put it this way:

I have read a fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:

"As ye deal with my condemners, so with you my grace shall deal”;

Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,

Since God is marching on.

[The Battle Hymn of the Republic: Julia Ward Howe, 1862]

            Yes, it is true. The incarnate Son of God was promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden. This Rescuer of God’s people would come into the world and crush the head of the serpent with his heel. The Redeemer would defeat death and free the prisoners of sin. And so the promise was handed down from generation to generation.

            However, the war with sin seemed to be getting worse. God’s people were killed, drowned, burned and enslaved. Israel lived in captivity for 400 years in Egypt with no Messiah. Battles, wars and famines over a millennium still without the promised one.

            Then one day, in the city of David, the Savior was born. At his birth, a multitude of the heavenly host praised God saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” [Luke 2:14] The promised one had come, but few knew of his arrival.

            Today we celebrate the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord. Two thousand years ago, Mary and Joseph returned to the city of David, Jerusalem, where the holy temple of Israel stood. They came so that this new mother could be declared clean and once again be allowed to make sacrifices in the temple. They were also there to present their first-born male child to God.

            This they did out of obedience to the Law of Moses so that the child would be called holy to the Lord. This was done so that all may remember the time of captivity in Egypt when the angel of death claimed every first-born male child.

            A devout and righteous man named Simeon was in the temple that day. He had been given a special gift from God in that he was to see the Messiah with his own eyes within his lifetime. Simeon waited patiently day in and day out for the consolation of the Israel, that is, for the war of sin and death to finally end and all of God’s people be set free. He waited for the promised one that would crush the serpent’s head.

            The Holy Spirit was upon Simeon that day so that he instantly recognized the Christ and took the babe into his arms. So moved was he that he spoke a prayer of thanks that we still sing today:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace,

according to your word;

                    for my eyes have seen your salvation

                   that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

                   a light for revelation to the Gentiles,

and for glory to your people Israel.” [Luke 2:29-32]

“My eyes have seen your Salvation…” declares Simeon. He has seen the glory of the coming of the Lord. Through this child will come the fulfillment of the promise of God, the promise He prepared long ago now revealed in the presence of all peoples. Like a lamp unto our feet, this Christ is the light for you and for me. Jesus Christ, the truth, the life and the way [John 14:6] has come into our world, flesh of our flesh, to break the chains of sin.

        He is the light of the world. [John 8:12] He is the resurrection and the life. [John 11:25] He is the truth that marches on. Glory, Hallelujah! Our God is marching on!

        This is the good news of our salvation! The Savior has come into the world to free us from our sin. This is the final battle in the greatest war in heaven and on earth. One man rises up to take the penalty of all our disobedience since the beginning of time and takes that sin to death upon a cross. Truly man and truly God, Christ takes the shackles of death from our throats and throws them down on the head of Satan saying, “You have no power over my people! Victory is mine!”

        I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to jump for joy! It makes me want to shout, “Hooray for our side!” It makes me want to sing praises to God. Glory, glory, hallelujah!         

        Today many of you will be watching two groups of men struggle for glory in a battle of the gridiron. Now I can’t tell you who will win this fight but I am pretty sure no one will die and I am definitely sure that no one will win salvation for themselves or anyone else.

        One team’s victory over the other will not shine the light of truth through any big screen television. As each team marches the pigskin down the field for a goal, no one will be freed from their enslavement to sin. But do not be discouraged for your eyes have seen the true glory of salvation of our Lord.

        Through our baptism, our eyes were opened to see the glory of our Lord. The Holy Spirit is now upon us. The light of the world, who is Christ Jesus, shines on all peoples no matter who or where we are. However, not all people will see the light or believe the gospel. Some turn away from the light so that they can remain in the darkness of their sin. They reject the gospel like pulling down a shade to block the sun from coming through the window and illuminating their house. It is sad and true, but we will not give up in spreading that Gospel light.

        We must bring the light to all nations. The presentation of Our Lord was the revelation of our God. The light of the world is in our midst. We now carry the Word to all peoples in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Remember that you are not alone in this struggle. Beside you is your neighbor, your brother and your sister. If one should stumble and fall, we lift each other up to continue the fight and march on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment-seat:

Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! be jubilant, my feet!

Our God is marching on.

[The Battle Hymn of the Republic: Julia Ward Howe, 1862]

        Our God is marching on and so also we march on. We march in the newness of life with the guarantee of life everlasting. We march in the truth that is Christ Jesus. Glory hallelujah!