Reading I (Malachi 3:1-4) Reading II (Hebrews 2:14-18)
Gospel (St. Luke 2:22-40)
Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Hebrews, talks about how Jesus had to take on human flesh in order to save us because the children of the flesh were under the power of Satan according to his power of death. Because it was human beings who sinned, we needed somebody who was human to be able to make up for our sin. Only human blood could atone for human sin. Saint Paul would say later in the same letter that the blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin; it could only cover it up. That is not sufficient because we cannot get into heaven merely with things covered up. God cannot fool Himself and try to make it appear that we are really completely forgiven of our sins and have them removed if they are not. We also need someone who is God to be able to take away our sin because sin is an infinite offense against God. Because we as human persons are merely finite, we are not able to make up for an infinite offense. Consequently, we need to have someone who is human but we need to have someone who is divine. That is who we see in Jesus Christ.
Jesus is not a human person. Jesus is a human being, but He is not a human person. He is a divine person from all eternity. You can only be one person, so when Jesus became human He took on our human nature (which means a human body, human blood, and a human soul) but He did not become a human person. Otherwise, He would be schizophrenic in the truest sense of the word. He would be two persons in one body – and He is not. He is a divine person, and because He is divine, He cannot change. So His person did not change at all. He remains the same person from all eternity. But now the person has taken to Himself a human nature, and it is precisely this that allows Jesus Christ to be able to suffer for us so death could be destroyed and sins could be forgiven.
It is this that we see as He is brought into the temple. Simeon, receiving Our Lord, recognizes Who He is and what He is about, and in this he glorifies God. The fulfillment of what had been promised to him has now been completed, and he is able to go in peace, to die and go home because now he has seen the Anointed of the Lord. But before he is able to do that, he first speaks about this child, that He will be a sign which will be contradicted, that He will be the rise and fall of many in Israel. Then he looks at Mary and says, And your heart too shall be pierced with a sword. The word that is used there in Greek implies a sword of sorrow, not a physical sword, but rather a sword of sorrow, an emotional one. We hear exactly at the time of the Presentation in the Temple the prophecy that Our Lord is going to suffer, that He is going to die, because that is the purpose for which He came.
And so there is this point that we hear in the prophet Malachi in the first reading: Suddenly there will come the temple the Lord whom you seek. Well, we are told what He is going to do. He is going to purify, and that is exactly the purpose of Our Lord. That is what it means to be the rise and the fall of many in Israel, and because of what He would do the hearts of many would be revealed. And so it is. The heart of each and every person is going to be revealed before the tribunal of Christ, because through His death, through His Precious Blood poured upon us, there is nothing hidden. He makes it very clear when he says, There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed. Everything is revealed before Christ. We cannot hide anything and neither can anyone on the face of the earth.
We realize then that through His death and resurrection we have our hope for salvation. But we must do exactly what Jesus did through His parents, that is, be obedient to His law. Look at all the points where Saint Luke makes clear in the Gospel that they were obedient to the law of the Lord, to the dictates in the law of the Lord. Jesus did not need to be redeemed like the other boys who were from Israel because He is the Redeemer, but they were obedient. They did not call any attention to themselves. We must learn from them to be obedient to the dictates of the law of the Lord. Part of that obedience now is to confess our sins; part of that obedience is to live righteous lives.
All of the things Our Lord lays out for us, all of the commands He gives to us, those are the things that we have to be obedient to. Not just simply going through the motions of doing something, but in the heart, because it is the thoughts in the heart that are going to be revealed. We are not going to be able to stand before God and say, “But didn’t I go to church? Didn’t I look good? Didn’t I make everybody think I was really impressive because I looked so good on the outside?” We are not going to impress Him. If the heart is not changed, then we will not be able to attain heaven. We need that change of heart.
He came to purify, He came to reveal the thoughts of our hearts. What we need to do now is come before Him and open our hearts, to be like Anna who was in the temple praying and who was seeking the Anointed of the Lord, to be like Simeon who was faithful in all things and waited for the Lord to come. Now we have to open our hearts to hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us and revealing to us our sins so we can bring them to the confessional, so we can be obedient to the Lord and humble ourselves and confess our sins so what is hidden in the darkness of our own hearts will be revealed in the light of Christ. Having that revelation, we are going to be purified and our sins will be removed. If we are in the state of mortal sin, then at that moment the words of Malachi are going to be true for us – Then suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord Whom you seek – because at the moment we enter into the state of sanctifying grace, the Holy Trinity is once again restored to His rightful place in the temple of our hearts and we become that temple of the Lord. The temple needs to be purified. The temple needs to be holy. That is why Our Lord has come: to make us holy so we can be His temple in this life as we await the day when we will enter into the temple in heaven, the one not made by human hands, the one He has opened for us who are pure of heart, the ones who have been purified so that they will be able to see the Lord face-to-face.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.