Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Little Something Extra...The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

God Comes to His Temple

An interesting theme flows through today's readings, a theme that is highly appropriate to this feast day: God comes to His temple. 

The First Reading sets the stage. Through the prophet Malachi, God says: 

Lo, I am sending My messenger
to prepare the way before Me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. 

The Lord will come to His temple suddenly after a messenger has prepared the way for His arrival. The people have been waiting for the Lord, seeking Him, desiring Him, and He will bring them a new covenant. 

The reading also tells us that when God comes to His temple, He will purify His people, refining them like fire purifies silver and lye purifies wool. Because of this purification, the people will be able to offer a sacrifice that is acceptable to God. 

We know how this prophecy plays out. We know that John the Baptist came as a messenger before Jesus, Who did suddenly appear in His temple, although not in a way anyone expected. We know that Jesus does purify His people through His life, death, and resurrection, through Baptism and the other sacraments, and through their sufferings, which they join to His cross. We know that now we do offer a sacrifice that is acceptable to God, for we offer Him the Eucharist, which is His own Son, Jesus Christ, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

The Psalm helps us respond to the prophecy in the First Reading. We call on the gates to lift up and allow the King of glory to enter, and we praise this King, Who is so strong and mighty. This psalm can work on several levels. It could portray the people of Jerusalem calling on the temple gates to raise up to admit the Lord. It could refer to the words of the angels as they call to the gates of Heaven to admit their Lord when He ascends. It could also be an invitation to us to open the gates of our hearts to let our Lord come in and change us from the inside out.

In the Second Reading, the author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus became like us in everything except sin so that He could be our “merciful and faithful high priest before God” and “expiate the sins of the people.” The original Jewish audience would have understood the reference very well. Every year on the feast of Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, the Jewish high priest entered the Holy of Holies, that innermost sanctuary of the temple, and offered sacrifice to expiate the people's sins. Jesus is the new high priest, but He has entered the temple of Heaven, rather than an earthly Holy of Holies, to atone for all of us and to bring us into a right relationship with God. 

Finally, in the Gospel, we hear about the first time Jesus entered the Jerusalem temple during His life on earth. No one would ever have expected Him to come in the way He did, for He was only a little baby, just a few weeks old and carried in the arms of His mother. Recognized only by Simeon and Anna, Jesus did nothing impressive during His first visit. Instead, His parents offered the sacrifices of redemption and purification prescribed by the Law. Simeon spoke his Spirit-filled words of prophecy about Who Jesus was and what He would one day do. Anna told anyone who would listen about this Child. Jesus Himself probably fell asleep somewhere in the midst of it all. 

Through His prophets and inspired men, God had long predicted that He would one day come to His temple. He certainly did, but as always, He was doing something new, something unpredictable, something utterly amazing.

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