THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD – February 02, 2014

A reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi 3:1-4

A reading from the Letter to the Hebrews 2:14-18

A reading from the Holy Gospel according to Luke 2:22-40

 

Would you believe that it has been forty days since we celebrated Christmas?  Notice the forty.  That’s how long Lent lasts before we come to Easter.   Well, in a sense we have completed a season and come to a mini Easter, if you will.  Or, another Epiphany, if you prefer.  The word, Epiphany, means manifestation, or showing forth.  On this day the Liturgy of the Word proclaims who Jesus is, the one who fulfilled the hopes and longings of generations of seekers, the Lord whom they sought.  Do we recognize him?  Do we understand that the darkness has been conquered?  The light has triumphed.  For us, winter is waning and spring is on the way.  We are children of the Light.

The first Reading from the Book of the Prophet Malachi sounds confident.  It was written in a dark period when the faith of the Israelites was at a low point.  Some thought the faith was dying.  The Prophet, the one who proclaims to the people what God wants them to hear, stirs their hope and reminds them of their longing for the Lord.  As is always the case with God, God’s ways are surprising, happening when people least expect them.  Suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek.

Notice what the Lord will do when he comes.  He will refine and purify.  In other words, when the Lord comes he will revive faith and empower the people so that they can open themselves and yield to Lord’s entrance.  And the people will be pleasing to the Lord.

We believe that Jesus is the Lord, the one God sent, God’s son.  For many the problem is Jesus is not the kind of Lord they were hoping for.  That was true in Jesus’ time.  It’s true today.  That sounds harsh, I know.  But forgive me, I think it is so.  The expected Messiah was supposed to be powerful, warrior like, a deliverer who would set the people free by driving out foreign rule and setting up a kingdom that would endure.  Even the Apostles and many of the disciples struggled with what Jesus said and did.  He associated with all the wrong sort.  He welcomed sinners and broke bread with them.  He touched lepers.  He received tax collectors and other untouchables from society.  The leaders of the faith rejected him on that count.  This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!  And, perhaps worst of all, he reached out to Gentiles.  How could Jesus be the Messiah?

In our times, when pressed, many will say still that Jesus is Lord, that he is the Messiah.  But inside, they wonder.  The church doesn’t seem to be proclaiming the message.  Then there is the proclamation of the gospel of success.  If people give themselves to Jesus, wealth and prominence will follow which are signs of their eventual getting into heaven.  The poor are poor because they are sinners and, well, you know the rest.  The faithful become elitist, builders, for all intents and purposes, of an earthly kingdom of splendor.  Just look at their trappings.

The reading from the Letter to the Hebrews puts the issue squarely before us.  Since the children share in blood and flesh, Jesus likewise shared in them, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death….  The core truth of our faith is that in the Incarnation, the Word, the Second Person of the Trinity, became flesh and dwelt among us.  The divine One took on and became part of human nature.  The chasm that separated the two orders is forever bridged.

Hebrews tells us that our Messiah is not an avenging warrior with a mighty sword to drive out foreign rule.  Here’s the issue, the stumbling block for many: our Messiah is a suffering Messiah who carried a cross and died on it.  Our Messiah bore the sins of the people and expiated them.  That means Jesus atoned for our sins.  Jesus drives out the power of evil and death.  His disciples walk in freedom and light.  And, because of the divine indwelling, the disciples continue his presence and his ministry.

Remember that the feast we celebrate is another Epiphany, a manifestation of Jesus as Lord.  In the Gospel, that Epiphany happens in the Temple where the eight-day-old Jesus is brought by his parents to be presented to the Lord God.  Immediately notice that Mary and Joseph are poor.  They can afford to offer only the least expensive elements for the required sacrifice – a pair of turtledoves or pigeons.  In the Law these offerings are made as a sin offering, an atonement.  That obviously does not apply to Jesus, the sinless one, but manifests his taking on the human condition we call sin.

What a beautiful character is Simeon!  He is a good man, a devout man, and a faith-filled man who has lived his life believing that he would see the Christ, the Messiah, before he died.  The Spirit empowers him to recognize the Christ in the little baby.  Seeing, he believes.  Believing, he is ready to die in peace.  The One he holds in his arms will be a light for all peoples, a revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for (God’s) people Israel.  It’s not a bad idea to imagine how the parents felt at Simeon’s proclamation.  Imagine the hope it stirred in them.

Ah, but there are two sides to this coin as there always is with discipleship.  This child is destined for the fall and rise of many… a sign that will be contradicted.  Not every one who sees will believe.  And some who profess belief will not live the Gospel.  And Mary, his Mother, the figure for the Church, will suffer.  Out of suffering comes truth and hope’s realization – if the suffering is accepted.

What do you think?  What should be our response?

A sad fact is that many have left the church for any number of reasons.  Some have felt rejected because of who or what they are.  Some have been scandalized by the actions and proclamations of some of the faithful and the leaders.  Some know that they had been denied access to the Table.  And they can’t find Jesus in all of that.

Pope Francis is calling for an Epiphany today.  Not only his words, but also his actions speak loudly, confronting, as Jesus did, the hypocrisy of the scribes and the Pharisees, the leaders in the church today.  Following in the footsteps of the one whose name he adopted, the pope us urging a poorer church that serves the needs of the poor.  He is urging the leaders to move among the people and to get to know them and how they smell.  He wants them to get their shoes muddy and to put off the splendid trappings of pomp and circumstance.  Make no mistake about it.  Millions are thrilling to Francis’s message; but there are not a few who decry him and are scandalized by him.  They don’t see the point of embracing the weak and lowly ones, the deformed, and kissing them.  Why would you want to have breakfast with a group of homeless people?

Some still long for the revelation of the mighty Messiah with sword in hand who will establish an elitist empire.  They are not that excited about One who urges poverty and the carrying of a cross.

So we move from the Table of the Word to the Table of the Eucharist.  We must be transformed by the proclamation of the Word so that we, along with the bread and the wine, can be transformed by the celebration of the Eucharist.  It is then that we will be able to recognize Christ present in the elements and he is in the Word.  It is then that we will recognize Christ present in the Assembly.  And it is then that we will be sent to be that presence in the market place, a poor church serving the needs of the poor, giving them hope, and reminding them that they are the beloved of God.

Imagine the Epiphany that happens then!

Sincerely,

Didymus

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