“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the LORD Almighty. But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years. (Malachi 3:1-4)
In the book of Malachi, the Lord speaks of two messengers who would come. The first is “my messenger.” This is John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the second messenger. The second is “the messenger of the covenant,” who is Jesus the Messiah, the Christ. He would come suddenly into his temple and those who were seeking him would see him. He would be a refiner’s fire to purify his people like silver or gold, turning them once again to the Lord.
In the Gospel, we learn that Christ was revealed in the temple in an unexpected way. This important event is known as the Presentation of the Lord and is celebrated every February 2nd, forty days after Christmas. The story is recorded in Luke 2.
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” (Luke 2:22-24)Joseph and Mary came to perform what was required by the Law of Moses. They would consecrate Jesus to the Lord, just as all parents of firstborn sons would do. For that occasion, they would sacrifice a pair of doves, one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. It was all perfectly according to custom — except that what happened next was quite out of the ordinary.
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. (Luke 2:22-27)Simeon had long waited for the Christ to be revealed and the consolation of Israel to begin. In fact, the Lord had promised him that he would witness it before he departed this life. Now that time had suddenly come upon him and, being led by the Holy Spirit, he immediately recognized Jesus for who he was.
When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. (Luke 2:27-33)Joseph and Mary had not expected to hear such wonderful words of revelation that day concerning their son, and coming from the lips of a stranger. Nor were they prepared for what Simeon said next.
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)Jesus would be the dividing line in Israel between those who would fall and those who would rise. There would be those who rejected him and those who repented and received him. There would be a sign of contradiction, the cross. There would be those who would crucify him and those who would take up their crosses and follow him. How they responded to him, whether in faith or unbelief, would reveal their hearts. Jesus would be, in the words of Malachi, a “refiner’s fire,” cleansing his people and reconciling them to the Father.
But there were also words for Mary, concerning her own soul, that she would be pierced as she witnessed the rejection and suffering her son. It would be a very deep sorrow. They were somber words but necessary for the great rejoicing that would follow as God’s salvation was made known to the nations. The author of Hebrews understood both the necessity of all this suffering as well as the resulting joy, and so the following passage is also read on this day:
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.