Feast of the Presentation of the Lord / A / 2020
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
This year we have the happy coincidence of the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord falling on Sunday. It gives us the opportunity to look more deeply at this beautiful feast—its meaning in the Gospel of Luke, and its meaning for us today.
The passage in the Gospel is familiar to us—and we might have a tendency to flatten out its various layers of meaning and to see it just as a family story of Jesus’ parents presenting him in the temple.
But there is a lot more going on here—which is probably not surprising to you. And to catch its full power and meaning, we have to turn to our first reading from the prophet Malachi. Malachi is the last book in the OT, the final word before the birth of the Messiah.
The words of Malachi in the first reading are a bit mysterious and enigmatic: "And suddenly there will come to the temple / the Lord whom you seek / and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire."
Suddenly there will come to the temple. But isn’t the Lord already in the temple? You and I come to the temple, not the Lord. Where is the Lord, if not in the temple?
To understand this, we have to turn to another prophet, the prophet Ezekiel, and we find there something extraordinary. Because of the corruption of the temple (yes, corruption goes back that far!), the Glory of the Lord (the shekinah) has departed—just up and left!
Ezekiel says this matter-of-factly, but the reality is devastating. The temple was God’s dwelling. The people came to the temple to commune with God. The temple on Mt. Zion was place of encounter between God and humanity. But Ezekiel says the Lord is gone—the sins of the people have pushed the Lord away.
In a later chapter in the Book of Ezekiel, the prophet speaks of what it will be like when the Lord returns: "I saw water flowing from the temple." The restored temple, from which flows the life of the world.
Now, against this backdrop, we look again at the prophet Malachi in our first reading—who looks forward to the Lord’s return: "And suddenly there will come to the temple / the Lord whom you seek."
Jump ahead to the Gospel— who comes into the temple? Jesus Christ. The fulfillment of the prophecies of Ezekiel and Malachi, the return of the "Glory of God" in the person of Jesus Christ.
And how does he return? As a baby, a tiny, helpless baby. What is it about babies that we all love? When a baby enters the room, all heads turn. God chose the best way possible to attract us to his Son.
But this is quite different from Malachi’s vision, which says, "Who will endure the day of his coming . . . for he is like a refiner’s fire, or like the fuller’s lye." Ouch! Malachi’s vision reflects the power of God—to burn away the dross.
But the Gospel foresees a different kind of conversion. As I see it, I am holding a baby—as did Simeon—gazing upon the face of Christ. My transformation is one of love and purity and grace. Gazing upon love, we become love. We see God.
And that is the deeper sense of this feast, the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord. The glory of God has returned in the person of Jesus Christ—our temple, and our salvation.