Feast of the Presentation of the Lord

Lift up, O gates, your lintels;
reach up, you ancient portals,
that the king of glory may come in!

The German composer Handel, serving in the court of King Henry II, has indelibly marked today’s reading from the prophet Malachi and the 24th Psalm with the pomp and majesty of the English court. I find it impossible to read But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears? without hearing the bass; and “Lift up, O gates” without hearing the divine sopranos. Count on the English to do pomp well.

This music accentuates the irony of the Lord’s quiet, almost unnoticed entrance to the Temple on his fortieth day, in the arms of Mary and Joseph. Only an old man, enlightened with an extraordinary vision by the Holy Spirit, knew the moment and the child.

This incident evokes that singular moment when the priest/prophet Isaiah, as he incensed the most sacred chamber of the temple, saw God sitting upon his throne as the building's foundations quaked, its pillars trembled and soaring angels sang, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts.”

Herod’s temple in Jerusalem was God’s home. The Ark of the Covenant, lost centuries before Jesus was born, had been housed in Solomon’s temple. Hebrews believed that God sat upon the wings of its sculpted angels. If, by the time of Jesus, the original temple and ark were long lost, the faithful believed that God still sat there upon the praises of Israel.

It was these faithful Jews – Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna – who brought the Son of God before the throne of God the Father, inspired and impelled as they were by the Holy Spirit. We must see an image of the Trinity in this iconic moment.  We should hear the angels singing and feel the earth quaking.  

We must also notice the dark shadow that passes over this tableau as Simeon prophesies.

Behold, this child is destined
for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
and you yourself a sword will pierce
so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed
We cannot see God without staring into blinding light and brilliant darkness. Our human sensibilities shudder before that incomprehensible darkness; it is the suffering, death and burial of Jesus. This is the passionate life of the Trinity revealed in language too obvious to be missed, too terrifying to explain.

Only Mary and her companion saints can comprehend it, not with words but with open hearts. Her people – you and I – wonder and ponder.

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I love to write. This blog helps me to meditate on the Word of God, and I hope to make some contribution to our contemplations of God's Mighty Works.

Ordinarily, I write these reflections two or three weeks in advance of their publication. I do not intend to comment on current events.

I understand many people prefer gender-neutral references to "God." I don't disagree with them but find that language impersonal, unappealing and tasteless. When I refer to "God" I think of the One whom Jesus called "Abba" and "Father", and I would not attempt to improve on Jesus' language.

You're welcome to add a thought or raise a question.