28 January 2020

The Presentation of Our Lord, Candlemass, 2 February 2020


Malachi 3:1-4
Psalm 84 or Psalm 24:7-10
Hebrews 2:14-18
St. Luke 2:22-40



Background: Purification, Presentation, and Candles

 

The second of February is a date in the Church’s year in which two events are celebrated and a custom is enacted. The events stem from the life of Jesus, his presentation in the Temple, a ritual in which thirty-three days after the boy’s circumcision an offering of a young pigeon or dove was offered up as a sin offering. The other event is the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a practice that is documented in Leviticus 12. Added to these two celebrations is Candlemass in which liturgical Christians bring candles to their churches to have them blessed – a symbol of the light of Christ. This day also signals the end of the Christmas cycle, which is followed by additional Sundays in Ordinary Time (Sundays after the Epiphany) and then the beginning of Lent. Many Christians keep up their Christmas trees, or their Crèches until this date. 


First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4

 

Thus says the Lord, See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight-- indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
For he is like a refiner's fire and like fullers' soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.



Written in the Persian era prior to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, Malachi (the name means “my messenger”), attempts to reinstate a Levitical view on a troubled time. He speaks against an apathetic priesthood and people, and prevails upon them to look back to the covenantal theology that we saw expressed in the E strand of the Pentateuch, and especially in the writing of Jeremiah and Hosea.

Our reading for this day speaks of the coming “Day of the Lord” and especially of the messenger of the Lord. Usually this designation is of the prophet making the oracle, but here it is the idealized messenger who announces God’s will. We have a messenger who is waiting to announce God’s good pleasure. We have an example of this in Exodus 23:20, where an angel (a messenger) awaits to bring the people to “the place I have prepared.” Here and again in Exodus 33:2, we see how the E documents influenced Malachi and his message. Malachi’s messenger is sent to prepare for an epiphany of the Lord, whose appearance will cleanse and purify the land and the people for right living.

Breaking open Malachi:
1.            In what ways are you a messenger for God?
2.            What is your message?
3.            What message do you need to hear?

Psalm 84 Quam dilecta!

 

1       How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
      The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
      Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
      Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way.
      Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
      They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
7       Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.
      Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.
      For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
10     For the Lord God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
11     No good thing will the Lord withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
12     O Lord of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!



“How dear to me” is an understatement of the intent of the psalmist. The notion of the Temple as a place delighted in has an almost erotic sense in the Hebrew. That is the intensity of the psalmist’s feelings about God and God’s dwelling place. That the little sparrow should find it a home give us a sense of the welcoming of all of creation to the courts of the Lord. We see the same sense in the phrase, “Happy are they who dwell in your house!” The psalmist recalls those who are pilgrims in verse 4, and then later gives us a vision of what the pilgrimage from lower lands up to the heights of Zion. The rains rush down the hillsides, refreshing the valleys just as the people of God will be refreshed in Zion. 

There attributes that are named, attributes of the God who is shield to the people of Zion. God is defender, shield, sun, and giver of grace and glory. The anointed is the King who rules over Jerusalem, but it is God who is the true protector.

Breaking open Psalm 84:
1.        In what ways is your church building comforting to you?
2.        What people need to be welcomed into your church?
3.        How might you accomplish that?

Or

Psalm 24:7-10 Domini est terra

 

7       Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
      "Who is this King of glory?" *
"The Lord, strong and mighty,
the Lord, mighty in battle."
      Lift up your heads, O gates;
lift them high, O everlasting doors; *
and the King of glory shall come in.
10     "Who is he, this King of glory?" *
"The Lord of hosts,
he is the King of glory."



This is an excellent match to the mindset of the first reading, as the gates are asked to open up to the messenger (the King of glory). God’s appearance is celebrated in this psalm, and God’s justice as well. It was at the gates of a city that justice was dispensed, for that is where the judges sat to hear cases. The image that may be alluded to here is the entrance of the Ark of the Covenant into the gates and then into the Temple. The ark was at times taken out into the battlefield, and then returned to the Holy of Holies. 

It appears that this section of the psalm was originally a separate piece of poetry. The previous verses speak of the entrance of people into the courts of the Lord, but in this poem, it is God who enters the Temple, perhaps in the guise of the ark.

Breaking open Psalm 24:
1.        Where is justice enacted in your town or city?
2.        What role do you play in making justice happen?
3.        How is your church a justice place?


Second Reading: Hebrews 2:14-18

 

Since God's children share flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.



In the initial verses of Hebrews, the author differentiates the Son from other aspects of creation. He is greater than the angels (see 1:1-10), but is made lower in his humiliation on the cross (see 2:5-10). Our reading connects Jesus with the people he is sent to save. It is not the angels that needed salvation, “but the descendants of Abraham.” This is the reason, then for the incarnation – the fleshiness of Jesus. “He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect.” The circumcision which is celebrated on 1 January, and the Presentation (with its sin offering), which is celebrated today connect us to the idea of incarnation, and literally connect us to the flesh of Jesus. There is a harsh reality, that of being tested in the world, that the author sees in us. He also sees it in the suffering of Jesus – the messenger who was sent to us (see First Reading).

Breaking open Hebrews:
  1. What does the incarnation mean to you?
  2. Do you see yourself in Jesus?
  3. How are you connected to Jesus?

The Gospel: St. Luke 2:22-40

 

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord"), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

"Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace,
according to your word;
for my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel."

And the child's father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, "This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed-- and a sword will pierce your own soul too."

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.



What we have here is the piety and practice of a good Jewish family: circumcision and naming (led by the Spirit), and now purification and presentation. What was once the intimacy of the family is now on this feast day made public, in the offerings at the Temple, and in the vision of Simeon and Anna. The wonderment and understanding of the Shepherds at Bethlehem are made deeper in the vision of these elder prophets in Luke’s story. All things are being kept in proper fashion, and it is only after they have been completed and perfected that the Holy Family returns to Nazareth. Like the prophets who spoke of his promise, Jesus “grows and becomes strong, filled with wisdom.” It is a standard description of a prophet – one filled with a message born of the Spirit. It’s as simple as that.

Breaking open the Gospel:
1.        What is your vision of Jesus?
2.        What do you see in Simeon or Anna’s vision?
3.        What must Mary have been thinking?








General Idea:              Aiding the Message

Example 1:                  The Messenger Malachi and his message (First Reading)

Example 2:                  A Message of Comfort in the Temple (Psalm 84)

                                      A Message of God’s Justice and Might (Psalm 24)

Example 3:                  A Message in God’s likeness to us (Second Reading)

Example 4:                  Simeon’s and Anna’s Message (Gospel)



After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday. 



Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Questions and comments copyright © 2020, Michael T. Hiller