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The Presentation

bellini2Purification

Today we celebrate The Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Joseph and Mary. From the Gospel of Luke we read:

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, the parents of Jesus brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”  (Luke 2:22-24)

Let us look at this event as if it were part of a three act play. This was the first act of purification – a ceremonial purification. Mary was considered unclean on the birth of her child, according to Jewish law. After a waiting period of about forty days, she and Joseph were required to offer up their son to God. Mary would then be considered pure and her child would be declared holy before God.

A ritual of ceremonial purification was not without meaning or significance. It was a rehearsal of a spiritual purification which was to come. Today, in many churches, parents present their children to God with the expectation that these children will be raised in the Christian Faith.

At the time of Jesus’ presentation the prophet Simeon blessed the family of Jesus and said to Mary:

“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)

This prophecy foretold the second act of purification – a purification of the Law of God. Simeon prophesied that Jesus will bring about major changes in Judaism. Jesus said that he did not come to set aside the law but to fulfill it. The essence of the Law had to do with loving God and neighbor, but it had become merely an elaborate set of rules to follow. As the Word made flesh Jesus demonstrating by his life the true righteous requirements of the law. God requires transparency and truth. We cannot cover up our sins by our works.

Joseph and Mary were presenting Jesus to God in the Temple. Jesus would soon change the whole temple worship by becoming the temple himself. He would become the new Temple by satisfying all the requirements of the old Temple. His blood, spilled on the cross, would become the atoning sacrifice for all our sins once and for all.

From Hebrews we read:

Since God’s children share flesh and blood, Jesus 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, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.   (Hebrews 2:14-15)

The last act of purification has to do with the purification of the saints. We read in Malachi:

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 descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the LORD in righteousness. 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 3:3-4)

The Apostle Paul writes that Jesus, by his atoning sacrifice, is able to present us pure before the Father:

And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his fleshly body through death, so as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him — provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.   (Colossians 1:21-23)

Paul makes it clear that we must continue in the Faith. Jesus makes this promise for those who do:

“Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven; but whoever denies me before others, I also will deny before my Father in heaven.   (Matthew 10:32-33)

Mary and Joseph presented Jesus holy to God. Jesus turned the tables. He presents Mary and Joseph and all saints as holy to God. Mary and Joseph offered up their son before God. God, the Father, offered His Son as a sacrifice to us all that we may be made holy before him. The Presentation of Jesus is our presentation as well.

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Third Sunday after the Epiphany

Training in Righteousness

In today’s appointed readings from the lectionary we have two very different examples of how people responded to the reading of God’s word. The first example is from the Book of Nehemiah. Nehemiah, the governor, was reestablishing Temple worship after the return of Israel from exile in Babylon. He had the priest Ezra read from the Law of Moses, from early morning until midday. This caused the people to weep as they were reminded of their failure to keep God’s commandments.

This is the power of the word. From The Book of Hebrews we read:

The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.   (Hebrews 4:12-13)

The power of the word can also rejoice the heart. The psalmist reminds us:

The statutes of the Lord are just
and rejoice the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is clear
and gives light to the eyes.   (Psalm 19:8)

Genuine repentance is the key. From the Book of Nehemiah we read:

Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept when they heard the words of the law. Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions of them to those for whom nothing is prepared, for this day is holy to our Lord; and do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”   (Nehemiah 8:8-10)

With real repentance there is forgiveness. Ezra helped explain and interpret the Law of God in a way that was more easily understood by the people.

Now let look at Jesus return to his home town of Nazareth:

When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    because he has anointed me
        to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
        to let the oppressed go free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”   (Luke 4:16-21)

Jesus, the “Word of God made flesh” was reading and interpreting his own Word. But his listeners would have none of it. His message was not the message they wanted to hear. Jesus was proclaiming the year of God’s favor but that message apparently did not fit their timetable.

The Apostle Paul warned Timothy that he must preach the truth of God’s Word whether or not his listeners were ready to hear it. Paul wrote:

Proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.   (2 Timothy 4:2-4)

Are we not living in an age when sound doctrine is becoming a casualty of false teaching and preaching. We remember when Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. Satan quoted scripture but in a twisted and perverse way. He was hoping that Jesus would take the bait. Are we to take the bait of unscrupulous preachers?

Those who preach falsely are placing themselves under a curse. Paul wrote in his Epistle to the Galatians:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!   (Galatians 1:6-8)

We do not want to remain in a church that is under a curse. We want to be taught by someone who is using the scripture for Godly purposes. Paul reminds Timothy:

All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.   (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

We do not need a watered down Gospel. Are we to obscure the corrective measures of scripture and offer a more pleasing and popular message for worldly people? The psalmist reminds us that the commandment of the Lord is clear. It gives light to our eyes and rejoices our hearts.

Many of us believe that Jesus will soon return. He is looking for a church without spot or wrinkle. All of us need training in righteousness.

Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”   (John 8:31-32)

What is our witness today? Are we continuing in the word? Are or we looking for false teachers who will tell us what our itching ears want to hear?

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First Sunday after Christmas, Year C

The Word Became Flesh

The Gospel of John does not have an Infancy narrative as do the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Rather, John speaks of a time before the birth of the Christ Child. He writes of the One who pre-existed the world and was the very agent of all creation:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.   (John 1:1-5)

Do we know Jesus beyond the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes? Many of His own Jewish people did not comprehend who Jesus was when they were privileged to see him in person:

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.  (John 1:10-11)

The remarkable thing is that the creator God entered he world of His own creation on our behalf. He did so on our behalf. In Jesus, God made himself vulnerable to humankind, in order to reveal his true nature and heart:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  (John 1:14)

Though the Gospel of John does not speak about the infancy of Jesus, it does allude to a different sort of infancy narrative. It speaks of our infancy narrative. We are reborn as children of God in him. The Apostle Paul writes:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.   (Galatians 4:4-7)

Do we recognize who Jesus is? Has his Spirit entered into our hearts? Only by his Spirit can we be reborn. We cannot become righteous on our own. The law of God can never make us righteous. It serves as our education concerning righteousness. Jesus, alone, is the one who makes us righteous. John writes:

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.   (John 1:16-19)

As an infant Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes. From the Gospel of Luke:

And Mary brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.   (Luke 2:7)

Have we been wrapped by Jesus? The psalmist wrote:

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,
my whole being shall exult in my God;

for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
he has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland,
and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.   (Isaiah 61:10)

As infants, we need the swaddling of the Holy Spirit. All we need to do is recognize our need and allow a loving Savior to wrap us in his love. The Christmas Season is a special time to experience the warmth of Jesus. At times we may feel all alone, but he is always with us. He is Immanuel, God with us. Let us bask in the glory and glow of his presence. Amen.

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First Sunday of Advent: Year C

Your Redemption is Drawing Near

We begin a new liturgical year. Happy New Year! Advent is season of expectation. We await the coming of the Christ Child. Advent is a season of preparation. We prepare ourselves to receive him deeper into our hearts. As we move through the season we look at the prophecies and preparations for the Incarnation – God with us – the first coming of Christ.

At the beginning of Advent, however, our focus is on the second coming of Christ. This is a subject that, to me, seems often neglected in many of our churches. The lectionary readings in the beginning of  the season emphasize the second coming. We are reminded that our spiritual preparation is not only for the first, but also for the second coming.

Non liturgical churches may wonder why the need for us to prepare ourselves spiritually. Has not the cross of Christ redeemed us from sin and death? What more can we do?

We need to look at the Early Church. Believers lived in a season of Advent continually. They lived in expectation that Jesus would be returning soon. That was a primary theme of their preaching and teaching, and especially for the Apostle Paul. Paul wrote:

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.   (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13)

Jesus taught instructed his disciples about his second coming:

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”   (Luke 21:25-28)

He said that we should be able to read the signs which foretold of his soon return:

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.   (Luke 21:29-33)

Not only did Jesus speak about his return, but he emphasized that his disciples must be prepared for his return:

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”   (Luke 21:24-36)

If we are true disciples of Christ, then we must heed his words. What are the signs Jesus was talking about? The fig tree stood for the nation of Israel. From the Prophet Hosea we read:

Like grapes in the wilderness,
    I found Israel.
Like the first fruit on the fig tree,
    in its first season,
    I saw your ancestors.
But they came to Baal-peor,
    and consecrated themselves to a thing of shame,
    and became detestable like the thing they loved.   (Hosea 9:10)

We live in the time when Israel is sprouting leaves. It was given up as dead, but then it was refound. We live in a season when Israel will be fully redeemed. As disciples of Christ, we are the ingrafted branches of Israel. Are we ready for the return of our Lord?

Our lifestyles and interests tell us that we are not ready. Jesus said: “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life.” Look how we observe this season. There is the frenzy of black Friday. There is little recognition of the season of Advent. Christmas shopping is here in full force.

We desperately need a season of Advent. We need a time of spiritual reflection. We need a season of self examination. But God has not left us alone in this task. Jesus is coming. But Jesus is Immanuel. He is still with us. He is ready to help us. He is our source for examination and preparation. Paul wrote: “May Jesus so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”

In this busy season, let us take time to be with Jesus. Yes, he has paid the price for us. What are we prepared to do for him? Will we put him first? Will be love him with all our hearts? Will we spend time with him in prayer – in his Word – in his healing and deliverance?

Yes, we are seeing signs of the end times. Jesus said: “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

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