Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Presentation Readings & Commentaries

The Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple

The Feast of the Presentation occurs 40 days after Christmas Day, when Jesus, as the first-born male, was presented in the Temple, and his parents undergone purification.  Indeed, this feast is also known as the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Because of the theme of light, this day also became the day to bless the provision of candles for the coming year, hence its popular name of Candlemas.  It is one of a handful of Major Feast that take precedence when it occurs on a Sunday (see The Book of Common Prayer, p. 16).

The Collect of the Day
Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

1st Reading:  Malachi 3:1-4
Malachi (a name which means “my messenger”) comes from the period after the rededication of the Jerusalem Temple in 515 b.c.e.  Later in the book “my messenger" is identified as the prophet Elijah. There was a tradition in Israel that Elijah would return before “the day of the Lord” (which was possible because Elijah ascended and therefore did not die—see 2 Kings 2:1-12).  Christians came to identify this figure as John the Baptist (Luke 1:17 & 7:27).

3:1 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 2 But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; 3 he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the Lord in righteousness. 4 Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

Psalm 84:1-6
Psalm 84 is a hymn of longing for the Temple, and perhaps a song sung by pilgrims when journeying to celebrate the Feast of Booths (Deuteronomy 16:13-15).  This song celebrates the nearness of God and the longing that comes from the heart of a pilgrim for that ever-increasing nearness.

1  How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
              My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
              my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
2  The sparrow has found her a house
    and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
              by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
3  Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
              they will always be praising you.
4  Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
              whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
5  Those who go through the desolate valley will find it
                            a place of springs, *
              for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6  They will climb from height to height, *
              and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.

2nd Reading:  Hebrews 2:14-18
A major theme of the writer of this letter is the image of Jesus as the high priest who sacrificed his own life (of flesh and blood like our own) and now intercedes on our behalf. Jesus knew our sufferings and trials and so can help us through ours.  The high priest of the Jerusalem Temple was the sole person authorized to enter the most interior chamber of the temple once a year (on the Day of Atonement) to offer sacrifice for the sins of the nation.

2:14 Since, therefore, the children share flesh and blood, he himself likewise shared the same things, so that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. 16 For it is clear that he did not come to help angels, but the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. 18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Gospel Reading:  Luke 2:22-40
Only Luke tells us this story.  It is part of his wanting to show the parents of Jesus as faithful Jews, who carefully followed the law in regard to their son.  The first born of all creatures belongs to God (Exodus 13:2, 12 & 15). The law of purification comes from Leviticus 12, as well as the sacrifice required to redeem the firstborn. Simeon is the fifth person said to be filled with the Holy Spirit in the birth narrative of Luke, and his is the fourth song (which is known by its first words in Latin, Nunc dimittis, and is a canticle prescribed in the Prayer Book at Evening Prayer or Compline.  It is significant that a woman, Anna, is called a prophet.  She is part of Luke’s frequent pairing of men and women in equal number in his Gospel.  The baby presented is celebrated, but there is also a warning that his life will contain sorrow and rejection.

2:22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.” 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, 29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

The Scripture quotations (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.  The Collect of the Day and the Psalm translation are from The Book of Common Prayer.  Commentaries are copyright © 2020, Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY  14843, All rights reserved.

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