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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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First Sunday of Advent: Year B

Tear Open the Heavens and Come Down

We begin a new liturgical year this Sunday. We start with a new season – Advent. Advent is a time of preparation. Others may rush into Christmas with all the early shopping and decorating, but let us spend the time to prepare our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child.

Are we in trouble as a nation today? The psalmist of old was aware that the nation of Israel needed God’s help. He prayed:

Hear, O Shepherd of Israel, leading Joseph like a flock;
shine forth, you that are enthroned upon the cherubim.

In the presence of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh,
stir up your strength and come to help us.

Restore us, O God of hosts;
show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.   (Psalm 80:1-3)

The Prophet Isaiah realized that Israel had forsaken their God. He prayed:

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence —

as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil —

to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!   (Isaiah 64:1-3)

For Israel, God dwelled behind a curtain within the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Only the high priest could enter and that was once a year in order to make the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. The enlightened Prophet Isaiah knew there must be more. He wanted God to be strongly present all the time. His prayer was ultimately answered with the birth of Jesus. God did tear open the heavens and come down. God came in the flesh and dwelt among us. The Apostle John writes in the preamble of his Gospel:

The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.   (John 1:14)

There was another tearing of the heavens when Jesus hung on the cross. God removed the requirement of the annual atoning sacrifice made by the high priest when Jesus became that atoning sacrifice once and for all. At the moment of his death the curtain in front of the Holy of Holies was torn from top to bottom. God opened the way for all of us to experience his presence. This was preface to God pouring out his Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

God wants intimate fellowship with us. He is waiting on us. Are we too busy? Are we too distracted by the things of this world. He did not go to such great lengths on our behalf only to have us sit idly by.

We are living in very dark times. Only Christ can break through the current darkness that surrounds us. Jesus warned his disciples that this such a time would come:

Jesus said, “In those days, after that suffering,

the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,

and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.   (Mark 13:24-27)

How are we to prepare for the coming of Christ in glory. We need a spiritual revival in our churches, our nation, and in our own hearts. This must be our focus. This must be our prayer.

The Apostle Peter was on the Mount of Transfiguration when he saw a glimpse of Jesus in his glory. He writes:

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.

So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.   (2 Peter 1:16-19)

Though we are living in dark times we are to keep the lamp of God shining in our hearts for the world to see. Advent is a time for us the fan the flames of this lamp. Let us echo the psalmist’s prayer: “Stir up your strength and come to help us.”

When God tears open the heavens and come down one more time, will we be ready?

 

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Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A

The  Shepherd and Guardian of Our Souls

Without a shepherd we are lost. We are like unruly sheep. The prophet wrote:

All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have all turned to our own way,
and the Lord has laid on him
    the iniquity of us all.   (Isaiah 53:6)

The music of Handel’s Messiah set to this reading from Isaiah tells the story. It is so lighthearted and frivolous. As people, we can be so unconcerned about and unaware of the consequences of our actions. Who can save us? Jesus. The Apostle Peter quotes Isaiah:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.   (1 Peter 2:23-25)

As sheep we need a shepherd. We need our shepherd to be the one who laid down his life for us. He alone can forgive us and lead us into righteousness:

The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.

He revives my soul
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.   (Psalm 23:1-3)

Only Jesus can lead us along right pathways. The institutions of education, the media, the entertainment industry, and the popular culture have worked overtime to lead us astray. Group think, political correctness, demonic music, and the intimidation of free speech have worn down our inner defenses and left us vulnerable to attack from the enemy. In fact, these voices are part of the attack.

These are strange voices to which we do not want to listen of follow. Let us tune our ears to the voice of the Good Shepherd:

He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”   (John 10:3-5)

We need Jesus as a shepherd, but he is more than shepherd, He leads us along right pathway and he revives our souls. Friends, our souls are dying without his presence in our lives. Are we embracing Jesus or are we being lead astray by strangers who want to kill and destroy us?

All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”   (John 10:8-10)

Thus, we see the ministry of Jesus as being two-fold. He is our shepherd, but he is also the guardian of our souls. The Greek word for guardian here is episkopoß (episkopos). As it is used in 1 Peter, it means more of a ministry than a position in the Church. Supplementing shepherd, the term suggests the pastoral work of watching over or guarding someone. It also means one who is doing this has the fullest knowledge.

We live in a very dangerous world, one in which the Devil is prowling about, seeking whom he can devour. There is no protection apart from Jesus. We say and believe that Jesus has saved our souls. That is what we should believe. But is Jesus guarding our souls? Is he reviving our souls? He wants us to follow where he is leading us. He is leading us to safety. He knows the pitfalls which lie ahead –  the ones that we do not see and cannot anticipate.

Christianity is an endurance race. We must keep the faith to the end. Too much is at stack for us to rely solely on  ourselves. Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith. Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Saint Mark, Evangelist

saint-mark-1621Repent and Believe

The evangelist Mark was a traveling companion of Peter. He recorded Peter’s sermons and stories found in the Gospel of Mark. It is clear that Mark’s Gospel was written by a masterful storyteller. Though short, this Gospel has great impact and clarity. In the opening of his Gospel he gets right to the point:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”  (Mark 1:9-15)

Notice that Mark’s Gospel is an action Gospel. It moves quickly and it asks us to move along with it.

Mark was a great evangelist who got right to the point. The Apostle Paul gives us a perception on the importance of evangelism when he speaks about God’s gifts to the Church:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.   (Ephesians 4:11-13)

The evangelist follows the apostles and prophets in importance. Often times they are thought of as shallow or not very sophisticated. For Mark, the Gospel was simple: Repent and believe. That is the starting point for every Christian and should be the essential message of the Church. Too many of today’s “seeker” churches have forgotten this message.

Mark was willing to risk everything for the sake of telling the Gospel message. Ultimately, he paid the price with his life. What are we willing to risk today? Jesus told His disciples:

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation. The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: by using my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes in their hands, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover.”  (Mark 16:15-20)

Are we prepared to join Mark? What will the Lord say about our feet?

How beautiful upon the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
who brings good news,
    who announces salvation,
    who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
    together they sing for joy;
for in plain sight they see
    the return of the Lord to Zion.
Break forth together into singing,
    you ruins of Jerusalem;
for the Lord has comforted his people,
    he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The Lord has bared his holy arm
    before the eyes of all the nations;
and all the ends of the earth shall see
    the salvation of our God.   (Isaiah 52:7-10)

We are living in the last days. Evangelism is of paramount importance. There is little time for frills. At the very least we can earnestly pray for the rescue of all lost souls.

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