Monday, 1 February 2016

Now let your servant depart in peace!

Written about three to four hundred years before Christ in a period where there were sorcerers, adulterers and perjurer, corrupt employers and landowners, Malachi 3: 1-5 is God’s response to those who think that God is either powerless or unwilling to do anything about the situation.
God will send a messenger or Angel – it is the same word in Hebrew – to warn people of the impending Judgement.
And this divine message or coming will be painful for those who experience it.
The judgement will start with the temple and its worship – with the place which supposedly exists to glorify God, which supposedly has experts in prayer, sacrifice and holiness, but had become corrupt, hypocritical and empty.
Religion had become corrupt. The temple is first in the firing line and will be purged and refined until their worship is worthy of God .
Once religion has been purged, God will then move on to the social sphere to judge and minister justice because a religion that is pure but accepts and even condones and perpetuates  social injustice is an abomination to the prophets.
Although this Old Testament reading is put with the presentation of Christ in the Temple it probably is much better suited to Jesus cleansing the Temple, unless we see Jesus’ presentation as a foretelling of that event.
Now no writing in the entire New Testament is more concerned with the Temple and Jesus’ relationship with it than the letter to the Hebrews.
In this short extract Hebrews emphasises again that Jesus humanity was all important. While He had the character and nature of God, he was indeed a full human being, who because he suffered was able to completely identify with us.
Hebrews asserts that before the resurrection of Jesus  that our whole lives were held in slavery by the fear of death.  
In Jesus’ glorious resurrection we were given assurance that, on the contrary, our lives are written against an infinite horizon and we can be released from that fear when we believe and put our hope and trust in the resurrection of Jesus.
In the gospel passage itself today Luke tells us of the cause of that hope, Jesus, being recognised while being presented in the Temple.  Luke writes in the manner of Old Israel.
It is the atmosphere and link with old Israel that is much more important to Luke than the actual details as the actual religious duty he is describing is not the presentation of a first born son which carried no obligation to bring Jesus to the Temple, he is describing the purification of Mary, which carries much more accurately the theme of judgement and cleansing introduced by Malachi.
We are being transported back to the days of the sages and prophets of old who find their embodiment in Jesus’ time in Simeon and Anna.  Why? Because Luke is desperate to convey that while Jesus is indeed a new thing, he is no boly from the blue but is inseparable from the story of Israel and is indeed its fulfilment.
Simeon and Anna fit the mould preferred by God exactly. They are obscure but devout figures which fits with God’s preference for using the lowly and they are led by the Holy Spirit.
And it is by the Spirit that they recognise Jesus immediately. And they prophesy that he will be the cause and the object of people’s hope for their salvation.
The lessons we can draw for our own journey it seems to me, is that we should never forget that we are all part of something much greater than ourselves, a story that started thousands of years ago with  Abraham and we are integral to that story.
We are led to Jesus by the Holy Spirit and we recognise his significanace by the same Spirit just like Simeon and Anna.

And when we put our faith and trust in Jesus, we are set free from the fear of death for in Jesus Christ we know our Salvation is secure.

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