05 February, 2013

Homily for the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus (Candlemas)

Malachi 3:1-5

I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple (Malachi 3:1).

When I lived in my home village my parents and I lived very close to the large parish church; indeed, somewhat painfully close as we discovered when the new bell system was introduced. There was a beautiful three-quarters view of the church from my room. I have looked at that church countless times; drenched in the red sunset rays of summer, faded by the gloom of heavy continental rain, and in other occasions. I stared at it in fear after an earthquake; I watched in amazement the evening that storks arrived in the village, and decided to set up home on the bell tower. What’s more I would turn often towards the church in my prayers, knowing that that crumbling building was the holiest place on earth, that is was sacred ground, because God, our Lord and Saviour, was there in his very body.

To few people what I just said might sound incredibly trite, whilst to others it will sound like heresy. However, there is something very Jewish about it and it is contained in the belief that God can and does dwell with us in particular ways that are more tangible, more real, than any other. Judaism possessed a strong belief in the real presence of God with his people. In ancient times, it was the Lord himself who sealed a covenant with Abraham on the altar. It was God who gave victory to the Israel by going out with his armies. More importantly, God dwelt with his people through the temple at Jerusalem; there in the Holy of Holies, stood the mercy seat, the Ark of the Covenant on which the blood of atonement was sprinkled, and the Lord’s very presence was adored.

Our reading from Malachi prophesies both about restoration and renewal; restoration, because it points towards a time when the Lord will abide again in his temple with his people in a very real and lasting way as he did in the time of old; and renewal, because it suggests that the dwelling of God will be manifested through worship acceptable to him; that is, in the worship offered by men and women purified and made holy for service. What God’s people are invited to do is just to wait upon the Lord, wait for his coming, and wait to be purified of their imperfections in the similar way to which the fuller prepares the wool for cloth, and the refiner purifies metal from its dross by smelting it.

And so it is that the prophetess Anna lives day and night in the Temple at Jerusalem waiting for the Lord to come, for perfect worship to be revealed, and refining herself through fasting, vigils, and prayers. Likewise, Simeon is moved by the Holy Spirit to enter the Temple and look for Jesus there. Both Anna and Simeon know that, although God may be the Lord of all, He decided to manifests himself to his people within a particular place and within the context of worship.

The Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple (3:1)
says Malachi, and in our gospel we read that Jesus comes to the Temple for the first time in the context of worship – specifically in the context of a sacrifice – and he is manifested to his people within the confines of a particular place. In coming to his temple, Jesus is revealed to be the saviour, but also as the refiner destined for the falling and the rising of many, who will discriminate between the just and the wicked so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed (Luke 2:34-35).

What about us? What attitude do we adopt towards our church and towards her worship? Have we encountered and recognised the Our Lord Jesus Christ here in his Temple, and at his altar? More importantly, are we willing to be purified of any dross and deadness in order to offer through Christ acceptable worship to the Father? Are we willing?

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