GOSPEL, FIRST READING & PSALM TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
Okay, so with that in mind, let’s go back to the Old Testament. How does any of this relate to the Old Testament for today? Well, if you turn here...the Old Testament reading for today is from the book of the prophet Malachi, which is one of the shortest books in the Old Testament, and therefore, one of many people’s favorite books in the Old Testament. Because it’s nice and short. It’s also the last of the 12 prophets, and it has a very important prophecy. In Malachi chapter 3, verses 1-4, it talks about how in the future, before the day of judgement, the Lord Himself is going to come to the temple. Listen to what it says, chapter 3, verse 1:
“Behold, I send 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, behold, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. 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; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, till they present right offerings to the Lord. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years. (Malachi 3:1-4)
So what’s going on here? It’s describing the coming here...notice, does it say anything about the coming of the Messiah? No. Does it say anything about the coming of a king? No. What does it describe? The coming of the Lord Himself to His temple. And the Hebrew word there for Lord is the tetragrammaton, those four sacred letters—Yhwh
—the sacred unpronounceable name of God. So what it’s saying here is that in the future God Himself will come to the temple in Jerusalem. At the time of salvation, God’s going to visit His people by visiting the temple. And obviously, when you juxtapose that with the Gospel reading today, what are we celebrating on the feast of the Presentation of the Lord? We’re celebrating the fulfillment of the prophecy of God Himself coming to the temple in Jerusalem.
Because remember, up to this point, that hasn’t happened yet. He’s conceived in Nazareth. He’s born in Bethlehem. But this is His first time that He comes into the temple. Now in a Jewish setting, it’s hard for me to describe for you just how momentous this would be, because in first century Judaism, they were familiar with the book of Ezekiel. Most contemporary readers—Christian readers—aren’t, but they were. And in the book of Ezekiel, it talks about the fact that when the temple was destroyed in 587 BC, before the Babylonians came to destroy the temple, it says that the presence of the Lord departed from the temple.
If you recall in the time of Solomon in 1 Kings chapter 8, and Solomon builds the temple, there’s the great glory cloud that comes down into the temple as a sign of God’s presence. Well, according to Ezekiel, the glory of the Lord departs from the temple before it’s destroyed, and then it’s wiped off the face of the Earth. They tear it...the Babylonians come and they burn it to the ground. Now the temple gets rebuilt after the Babylonian Exile. But what does not return in the second temple is the glory cloud. That’s the symbol of God’s presence—the visible sign of God’s presence.
So they’re still waiting for God to come to His temple. So when Mary and Joseph—in obedience to the law of Moses—bring the baby Jesus up to the temple, they thereby fulfill the prophecy of the consolation of Jerusalem, the redemption of Jerusalem, and the coming of the Lord to the temple.
SECOND READING TRANSCRIPT (Subscribe or Login for Full Transcript):
...this is from the second chapter of the letter to the Hebrews, and this very famous letter is really all about Christ and the temple. So one of the reasons it makes sense to pull a passage from Hebrews for today is because the Presentation of the Lord is the day we celebrate the coming of God to the temple in Jerusalem—which is the house of God on Earth—in the Presentation of the infant Christ in the temple. And so it’s fitting that we would take a passage from Hebrews.
And in context here, the opening chapters of Hebrews are about establishing the fact that not only is Christ the Son of God, but He is the true high priest of the new and everlasting covenant. And in this case, what it’s saying here is that Christ partook, as priest, of the human nature—of the same nature as all other human beings—so that through His death He might destroy the one who has the power of death (that’s the devil) and deliver all of his brethren, all of His fellow human beings…
...who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. (Hebrews 2:15b)
And you’ll notice here that verse...it says:
...surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. (Hebrews 2:16)
And you might be thinking, “What is that all about?” Well, because apparently—in the community to which the letter of the Hebrews is written—there were some people who were confusing Jesus with an angel. Some people were saying that Christ—as the messenger of the Lord—was in fact one of the other messengers of the Lord. He was just one of the angels. He wasn’t God made flesh become fully human, but He was just one of (or the highest) of the angels. You still actually see that idea running around today in certain circles—so for example, amongst the Jehovah’s Witnesses. In standard or common doctrine of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they contend that Jesus is not the eternal uncreated Son of God made man, but rather, He is a creature. And He is the angelic Son of God. He is the highest of the angels. In fact, many of them identify Him with St. Michael.
Now that might sound bizarre to a lot of Catholics, but it’s actually a very ancient error, because if you go back to the Old Testament, one of the first names for the angels in the Old Testament is sons of God. You’ll see this in the book of Job, for example, and elsewhere. So the expression “son of God” in the Old Testament could refer to angels. It could refer to the king of Israel. And it could refer to the people of Israel as a whole. So it was kind of an ambiguous term.
So when people come and begin proclaiming Jesus to be the Son of God, some Hebrew Christians—or some Hebrews—misunderstood it to mean that Jesus was one of the angels. So the author of Hebrews here is correcting that and saying, “No, no, no. Jesus is fully human. He took on a human nature in order to redeem human beings. He wasn’t sent into this world to save the angels. He was sent into this world to save the descendants of Abraham. It’s with the descendants of Abraham that He is concerned. Therefore, He took on their nature.”
So it’s emphasizing the fullness of Jesus’ humanity. Now it continues by saying:
Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God… (Hebrews 2:17a-b)
What’s that about? Well, if you look at the Old Testament, it’s very clear that the highest office in worship was the high priest...and that he would be chosen from among the people of Israel. And so what the author of Hebrews is saying here is that if Jesus is going to be the high priest of the new covenant, then it stands to reason that He too has to be chosen from among men, because it’s men who act as mediators between God and human beings. It’s human priests who act as mediators. So He shares the nature of his brethren in every respect to become the true high priest in the service of God, in order to make expiation for the sins of His people.
That’s probably there an allusion to the book of Leviticus 16, which describes the Day of Atonement. Because above all, the premiere day on which the Jewish high priest would make expiation or atonement for the sins of all of Israel was on the Day of Atonement. In Hebrew, it’s called Yom Kippur. And on that day, all of the people would fast, abstain from food and drink, and they would go to Jerusalem. And the priest—the high priest—would offer a special sacrifice, both the offering of the scapegoat — which would be sent away into the desert — but then another sacrifice that would be brought into the temple itself, and the blood of that sacrifice would be sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant, in the Holy of Holies, seven times...in order to atone for the sins of the people.
And on that day, it was the one day that the high priest was actually allowed to pronounce the unpronounceable divine name, the Tetragrammaton, the four holy letters, YHWH—those four Hebrew letters. He would say the name aloud, and all of the people would bow down when they heard the sound of the name. And then he would go into the temple, and he would offer the sacrifice. And the blood of that sacrifice would atone or redeem...it would bring about the forgiveness of all of the sins of all of the people of Israel from the entire previous year. So once a year, the priest would go in to atone for the sin and to make expiation for the sins of his people.
And in this case, what the author of Hebrews is doing is saying that Christ Himself is the true high priest who is going to make expiation not just for His sins, but for the sins of all of humanity. And the reason He can do this is because He Himself has suffered and been tempted and is able to help those who themselves suffer and are tempted.
It isn’t in this particular passage, but if you fast forward a few verses down to Hebrews 4:15, he will actually say:
For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
Okay, the point here is...the letter of Hebrews is affirming both the fullness of Jesus’s divinity—which it describes in chapter 1—but also the fullness of His humanity in chapter 2. And the reason the fullness of His humanity is so important is that if He is going to atone for the sins of humanity, if He’s going to be the true high priest, then He has to be fully human. He has to share His human nature, and He has to be able to identify with His brothers, with human beings who suffer and who are tempted just as He was—the one difference being that He Himself did not sin.
Now, that’s kind of the basic thrust of the passage. You might be thinking, “Well, what does any of that have to do with the Presentation of the Lord?” Well, remember, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord is not just the coming of God to Jerusalem, but the coming of God into His temple. So when Jesus comes into the temple, He doesn’t just come as heir to David’s throne or the Anointed Messiah or the new Moses. He also is the True High Priest. And so His coming into the temple—in a sense—anticipates the fact that as High Priest, He’s going to be called to offer sacrifice. But the sacrifice that He offers is not going to be the blood of a bull or the blood of a goat on the Day of Atonement. It’s going to be the blood that He offers from Himself—His own blood that He will offer on the sacrifice of Golgotha, on the mountain of Calvary at the crucifixion...which is precisely what Simeon prophesies about when He says, “This child…” in the Gospel for today:
...this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel…” (Luke 2:34b)
...and that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul. So even though there’s this great celebration of the coming of God into Jerusalem, we’re not in the age of glory yet. There still is the shadow of the cross hanging over the Presentation of Jesus in the temple.
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