For Feb. 5, 2012: Presentation in the Temple, Year B

The Reading            Malachi 3:1-4

The book of Malachi is addressed to Jews in post-exile Jerusalem who believe God has abandoned them. The Lord is sending his malaki—his messenger—and the judgment to follow will be like being melted in the flames of a blast furnace or like being scoured clean with strong lye soap, though at the end judgment will lead to vindication.

 

The Epistle            Hebrews 2:14-18

Where the reading from the book of Malachi depicted God’s messenger as judge and purifier, the version in the letter to the Hebrews sounds different: Jesus comes to take on our humanity so he can pay the price of our sins.

 

Further thoughts

During Advent we look forward to the Nativity: we know on some level that Jesus is God come among us, but what we see and reach out to is a sweet little baby born in difficult circumstances.

In Epiphany, the focus shifts: we begin to look into this baby’s future, and ours.

Malachi gives us part of that: the Lord who is to come will bring judgment, and it will be not be pretty. Even the people who were born to serve in the Temple—the offspring of the tribe of Levi—have fallen short of God’s standards and must be purified. The process will be searing and caustic, and we will be ashamed.

The book of Hebrews gives us another parts: the Lord who is and is to come brings judgment, but with it mercy and absolution—though at the cost of his own death by torture, and at the cost of our own recognition of our need for his death.

The Gospel gives us further pieces. Grief is one of them. The grief will be public and personal, abstract and concrete. Simeon foresees the falling of many and a sword piercing Mary’s own heart: what mother is supposed to have to witness the death of her son, and who among us would wish our inner thoughts all to be revealed?

But there is also anticipation. The helpless baby—a child presented at the Temple would be forty days old, of an age to hold his head up and possibly to begin to find his own tiny thumb with his mouth on purpose—will not remain a baby for long. The parents will teach him to walk and to function in this world, and their secret parental hope that their boy is something special will be fulfilled in spectacular fashion. And, once grown, the Man of Sorrows who dies for our sins will still and always also be the laughing Jesus who takes irrepressible delight in all the created order and in each of us, his billions of brothers and sisters, who shows us the way from judgment and grief through mercy to joy we cannot even imagine.

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