Posts Tagged 'presentation'

For Feb. 2, 2014: The Presentation in the Temple

The Reading            Malachi 3:1-4

Malachi means ‘my messenger’. The Lord’s messenger is coming like a blast furnace and caustic lye soap to burn and scour away the people’s impurities—verse 5 names sorcery, adultery, false witness, keeping wages low, and oppressing widows, orphans, and aliens—so that offerings in the Temple will once again please God.

The Response            Psalm 84

The striking imagery of Psalm 84 depicts the house of the Lord as a place of integrity where the one true God will be revealed in glory—and where even humble sparrows and swallows are safe and welcome.

The Epistle            Hebrews 2:14-18

Where the reading from the book of Malachi depicted God’s messenger as judge and purifier, the epistle to the Hebrews tells the story differently: Jesus comes to take on our humanity so he can pay the price of our sins, and dies so that even death can no longer separate us from God.

The Gospel            Luke 2:22-40

Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Mary and Joseph take him to the temple in Jerusalem and offer a sacrifice for Mary’s purification as the law requires. There they hear astonishing prophecies about their little boy; the first is what we have come to call the Nunc Dimittis (‘now you dismiss’) from its first two words in Latin.

 

 

Ponderables

This Sunday we celebrate the ritual presentation of forty-day-old Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem. The day’s readings continue the theme of Epiphany season: Jesus revealed to the world and coming into his ministry. They contain an interesting subtheme, however, of welcome to the marginalized. The reading from Malachi, which we also heard on the second Sunday of Advent, names wickednesses that God’s messenger is coming to burn and scour away—and most of them victimize minimum-wage-earners, widows, orphans, and aliens. The psalmist sings the glories of God’s dwelling place—where even the tiniest twittery birds are safe. The parents who present Jesus are too poor to afford the lamb of Leviticus 12:3-8, so they bring just the Title-I-reduced-price-lunch equivalent in two small fowl—yet, as Simeon and Anna tell it, this kid is everyone’s best hope.

What this all means, Hebrews 2:14-18 explains. It is our God’s style to welcome the nobody and the nestling chick in God’s house before the prince and the prelate. It is our God’s style to be conceived without benefit of clergy, born away from home at bureaucracy’s behest, and exiled as an undocumented emigrant. It is our God’s style to comfort the careworn and nettle the nabobs. And it is precisely our God’s style to endure the most extreme execution the Roman Empire could engineer so that we may grasp for good that even grim death cannot keep us out of God’s good graces… if we will but listen and love God and love one another.

If Jesus walked into our church, would he find factions or a community united in love?

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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.