“Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.”
Hear the words of the prophet Malachi. The Lord has come into his temple. In the Gospel account the Christ child is brought within the temple in accordance with Torah Law by his mother Mary and Joseph his father. The infant Jesus is being presented as a first-born male unto the Lord God. At first glance the Gospel is rather straightforward. Luke’s narrative is a record of ritual obedience accompanied by prophetic pronouncements.
First by Simeon, a pious and aged Jew, then by Anna, an elderly prophetess who prayed daily in the temple courts for some 44 years: both the very picture of Jewish piety and righteousness. And yet, like every other Christological Feast celebrated throughout the Christian year, there is so much more to this story. Much more than a story about a little baby boy being brought into the Temple courts. This particular baby being presented to the Father, will one day, be offered to the Father as a perfect sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins: your sins and mine.
The Lord has come into his temple. God has kept his promise, he has fulfilled the words of Malachi by Jesus appearing in his Father’s house. “The Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts.” God has kept his promise, prophecy has intersected with fulfillment in the presentation of the Christ child. And there is another important intersection: a covenantal convergence.
Christ's first appearing and presentation in the Temple symbolizes the perfect fulfilling of the old covenant by Jesus who is the very embodiment of the New Covenant. We see the passing of the Old Covenant Temple and its rituals intersecting with the inauguration of a new temple- the body of Jesus Christ- where spiritual, not animal sacrifices, are to be offered unto the Lord. An intersection of the old and new. Intersection and convergence in the infant Christ.
The Lord has come into his temple. Jesus was presented in the Temple in the flesh. God incarnate, the infant Jesus, placed into Simeon’s pious, aged, and faithful hands: flesh upon flesh. An incredible moment! He was looking for Israel’s Messiah, “for it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord's Christ.”
Simeon was being kept by God until he should see with his eyes what he already perceived by faith. Taking the infant Jesus into his hands he proclaims, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.”
In a real sense, through this particular feast we’re able to celebrate “epiphany” once again insofar as the Christ Child is revealed as the Messiah through Simeon’s canticle. Christ is the light of the nations, a light to lighten the Gentiles! In Simeon’s song is heard the first suggestion of God’s all inclusive, grand sweeping scope of redemption. Here the promised salvation of Israel intersects with God’s pronouncement to not only save Israel but all the nations as well. Salvation has come because Messiah has come! In Christ, God has extended mercy beyond Israel: salvation has come to the young and old, male and female, Jew and Gentile.
The Lord has come into his temple. Therefore judgment has come near and final judgment awaits all men. In this child, God’s plan of salvation intersects with impending judgment. The light of salvation will also be “the fall and rising of many, a sign which shall be spoken against.” For Jesus will reveal the thoughts of mens hearts. The light of salvation will be a “swift witness against” sinful men. In the temple courts, in the hands of a prophet, Salvation and judgment intersect and converge in the person of Jesus Christ.
This is why we strive to remain in Christ, worshiping him, partaking of his sacrament, seeking absolution of sins: for Christ to purify us, to keep us clean until that final day when we will see him face to face. For who will stand in the day of his coming? What is the answer to Malachai’s question? It is the righteous, the ones who love the dwelling place of the Lord, who always praise him! Hear the Psalmist who says,
“Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; they will be always praising thee.” And, “For one day in thy courts, is better than a thousand.” And, “My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.”
You can almost imagine Simeon saying these exacts words, can you not? He loved the Lord’s House, to be in his courts, Simeon, the epitome of covenant loyalty and righteousness, trusting in God’s promise, looking for Messiah. And unto him was given the blessing of seeing, touching, to behold the Promised One, Salvation itself, Jesus Christ the Son of God.
And this is because Jesus is received by the pious. Simeon is our great example of this: “The Lord will give grace and worship; and no good thing shall He withhold from them that live a godly life.” This is why we are called to cultivate on a daily basis personal piety, righteousness, and holiness. To be clean. To be preserved in purity. This is what the Collect points us toward this evening,
“ALMIGHTY and everliving God, we humbly beseech thy Majesty, that, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in substance of our flesh, so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts, by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Unto Simeon was given the gift of beholding Christ. Beloved, unto us, is given the indwelling of Christ, so that he might present us to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish. Hear the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and be assured, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” Amen
The Rev. Michael Vinson