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The One Who is the Light of the World

Healey '77 reflects on this weekend's gospel reading as we head into the weekend when we celebrate the feast of the presentation of the Lord.
The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
First Reading: Malachi 3:1-4
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 24:7-10
Second Reading: Letter to the Hebrews 1:10-13, 17
Gospel: According to St. Luke 2:22-40

The first reading for this weekend’s liturgies comes from the last chapter of the last book of the Old Testament. This final book is attributed to Malachi, a prophet who lived in the 5th Century B.C. The name Malachi is Hebrew for “messenger” and is a fitting description for the last of those who pointed the People of God to the Incarnation, the coming of the Messiah into the world.

In the first two chapters of this book Malachi proclaims the love of God, but then quickly turns his focus to the disappointing behavior of the Israelites. He begins with the priests and works his way through the entire nation, listing offense after offense. It should give us pause that Malachi’s main focus is the cynicism of a people who no longer see any reason to do God’s will in a world where those who ignore the divine law, including priests, are the ones who prosper. One would have to be blind to the reality of the state of the world today to not see a relation with the situation of Jerusalem in the 400s B.C.

But on the brighter side, our first reading at Mass is the follow-up to Malachi’s philippic, and the words we hear offer a lifeline to those who have fallen away from the path of God and His Law. The final chapter of the Old Testament begins with great hope: “Thus says the Lord God: Lo, I am sending My messenger to prepare the way before Me.” Taken as a bit of word-play, we can draw from this that the Lord is telling His People that Malachi himself is preparing the way for the Messiah, but certainly anyone familiar with the ministry of St. John the Baptist will recognize the one whose voice cried out in the desert proclaiming the coming of the Kingdom of God.

Malachi continues: “And suddenly there will come to the Temple the Lord whom you seek…Yes, He is coming, says the Lord of Hosts. But who will endure the day of His coming?” Many scripture scholar have made much of the use of “suddenly” as an indicator of the brief six month period between the birth of John the Baptist and his cousin Jesus, but for us at Mass the “suddenly” points more directly to the Gospel reading where Luke recounts the story of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple and his meeting with Simeon. In a matter of a few short minutes we suddenly go from listening to the words of Malachi to those of the first prophet of the New Testament.

The Canticle of Simeon, those words beginning with the phrase, “Now, Master, you may let your servant go in peace,” is recited each day at Compline, night prayer, by those who pray the Diving Office. They are a fitting and lyrical way to prepare for our “little death” each night in hope of awaking again with the dawn. Yet here they also hearken back to that time period between Malachi and Simeon – that era where the prophetic voice of divine revelation slept for over four hundred years.

With the Presentation of the Lord in the Temple – the cause of today’s celebration, the newborn Messiah is made known in an official way, having already evangelized the lowly shepherds and the princely magi. This feast marks the moment that the slumber of the Old Covenant awoke to a new dawn which, in the words of Simeon, is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for your people Israel.” And that light and glory call all who believe in the Anointed One in Mary’s arms to imitate Malachi and Simeon: to wake up a slumbering and darkened time by being messengers of the One Who is the Light of the World.

A.M.D.G.