Wednesday, February 2, 2011

February 2011 Parish Letter

“Almighty and ever-living God, as Your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple in the substance of our flesh, grant that we may be presented to You with pure and clean hearts; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”

[Collect for the Presentation of Our Lord]

February 2 marks a somewhat forgotten event in Jesus’ life: His presentation to God in the Temple at Jerusalem. Forty days after His birth, Jesus is taken to the Temple. The Lord’s Law demanded that every first-born male living thing be presented to Him. This law applies to the infant Jesus. All first-born Hebrew males belonged to the Lord who saved them from dying on the Passover Night in Egypt. But instead of keeping all those first-born boys as His priests, the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi. Other Hebrew boys could be redeemed—bought back from the Lord for five silver shekels.

Mary and Joseph fulfilled this custom of the Law, presenting Jesus to God. Even as an infant, Jesus is obeying the Law of God—every little part of it. Yet we have no record of Jesus being redeemed with silver. Rather, Jesus is set apart to be a servant of the Lord, to do His will: the reason He came to earth. Jesus will not be bought back from God. Instead, He will give His life to be a ransom for others, buying them back from sin, death, and Satan.

This presentation is different than all the others ever made by Hebrew parents. Different because of the identity of this forty-day old Infant is. Different in purpose and scope Different in what it accomplishes. This is no ordinary Hebrew baby in Jerusalem, but is God-incarnate entering His own Temple. He comes, not to be bought back from God like the other boys, but to present Himself as the Promised One ready to serve the Lord and to redeem His people.

It is the unique nature of this Presentation that causes Simeon to be there in the Temple. His presence is the fulfillment of another divine promise. He will give another testimony of the divine nature and office that Jesus holds, even in His infancy. Simeon’s presence will show that this is an unusual presentation of a baby like no other. St. Luke tells us that Simeon had a divine promise: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And he came in the Spirit into the temple, when the parents brought in the Child Jesus, to do for Him according to the custom of the Law.”(Lk 2:26-27)

What did Simeon see? An infant being carried by His mother. And yet, it is to this Child that Simeon is drawn. Only faith in God and His words would lead Simeon to this Child. Only the Spirit would lead him to testify about this Child: “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel.”(Lk 2:29-32) This Child would fulfill the Old Testament and all of its promises of redemption, leading Gentiles out of the darkness of not truly knowing God and giving help to the children of Abraham who believed like their patriarch did.

For us, this infant Jesus is our salvation. What He accomplished for us on that day and throughout His life is the fulfillment of the Law that we could not keep. The Law our forefathers broke, the Law we have transgressed, the Law our descendants will never keep in totality. Christ’s Presentation in the Temple consecrates Himself to the purpose of redeeming and saving us.

Instead of paying the ransom to be bought from God, Jesus presents Himself to the Lord’s service. He presents Himself to be the Priest of priests, serving God for eternity. He presents Himself as our ransom, not to be bought from God, but to be bought for God. The price is paid not with silver coins, but with the high price of His own suffering and death. The same day that Mary offers up a sacrifice to be made clean, Jesus offers Himself to God to be the sacrifice to redeem all people from the uncleanliness of sin.

The Epistle to the Hebrews describes this work of Christ: “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”(Heb 2:14-15) By dying and rising from death, Christ rendered powerless the one who only had the power of death: Satan himself. Jesus was made like us in all things to make propitiation for our sins. He became truly human, subject to and fulfilling all the Lord’s laws, so that He could redeem us and make us His own. Now, in God’s heavenly temple, Jesus is the High Priest constantly making intercession for us.

Even as an infant, Christ was at work to purify us, so that our worship of the Lord will be proper and pure. He has shone the light of truth and salvation upon us, the people who dwelt in darkness. Jesus was presented in the Temple as the Lord’s own to serve Him; now Jesus presents us to His Father so that we, too, may be called holy and serve Him. So we are conformed to Christ’s image so that He may be the first-born among many brothers.

As Christ’s brothers and sisters, we put our trust in Him and what He has done for us—trust and faith that only the Holy Spirit can provide. We believe that He is the Almighty Lord, even as a lowly infant. We believe in His promises that He makes to us: the promise that He has made us His own, holy people through Baptism; the promise that His holy Body and Blood are present in the Eucharist and grant us the forgiveness of sins; the promise that He is our great High Priest, interceding for us before the high altar in the heavenly Temple; the promise that He has fulfilled all things for us, reopening the gates of Paradise to all who believe in Him.

The trust and faith that we have in Jesus Christ allows Simeon’s words to become ours. Led by the Holy Spirit, we confess that Jesus is our Lord. We ask Him to let us depart in peace, according to His word. We know the salvation He prepared before all people. We confess that He is the light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of Israel. That light and glory is what we will eternally behold. For what is promised to us is not to see an Infant like Simeon did. Rather, we will see our Lord Jesus Christ presented to all the world in His Temple as the King of Creation and Judge of all.

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