Yesterday, February 2nd, was “Presentation of the Lord” day, as feast day in some religious traditions. And the Revised Common Lectionary provides scripture passages for most all of these feast days. This day marks 40 days after Christmas and celebrates the presenting of the baby Jesus in the temple. We noted and celebrated this event back during the Christmas season with some of the same biblical events. The meeting of Simeon in the temple from Luke 2:22-40 is one of the biblical passages (the Gospel passage) is used on this day.
“See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?
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 3:1-4)
The passage from Malachi is also used, heralding the coming of Christ and warning of his cleansing power. Or heralding the coming of someone who will be important in the lives of God’s people. I have long believed that many times scripture passages pick up “addendum-type” of commentaries because they are seen and interpreted in the “light” of the New Testament. And I often have to wonder what it would be like to hear or read scripture in the moment it was written. What might you think if you read such passage as Isaiah 40 verse 21 without any foreknowledge?
How could you know that (or if) this was speaking about someone soon to come or someone far in the future. In actuality the writer of Isaiah is talking about God, not the infant Jesus presented at the temple 40 days after birth.
“It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers;
who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;
who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.
Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.” (Verses 22-24)
This does sound like a God most mighty, and we know for a truth (even those who seem to not admit it) that there is no other like God Creator and Ruler.
“To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these?
He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’? “ (verses 25-27)
But we have to remind ourselves that the God of the Old Testament is also the God of the New Testament, and Jesus Christ who at 40 days of age and was presented in the temple by his earthly parents was also the Lord God who Isaiah wrote about. And we may be confused and perplexed by this. But . . .
Have you not known? Have you not heard? the Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted” (Verses 28-30)
God did something totally different from what God’s people in the Old Testament expected. I have heard it said that with Jesus Christ God ushered in a whole new way of understanding and living. And when I try to understand and interpret all this, how God could be so changeable yet unchanging. Mighty yet found in the form of a 40 day old baby, I find my human mind and understanding too frail and feeble.
But I take comfort in the very passages that set up this confusion.
“[B]ut those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.” (Isaiah 40: 31)
May you beloved reader embrace the mystery that is God and our Lord Jesus Christ. Selah!