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Scripture In Depth
Feast of the Presentation
of the Lord
February 2, 2020
Reginald H. Fuller

Reading I: Malachi 3:1-4

This passage is an excerpt from a section in which a series of questions is addressed to Yhwh. The statement “You have wearied the Lord” is givenen in response to the question “How have we wearied him” (Mal 2:17). The answer is: by denying Yhwh's justice. Therefore Yhwh will visit his people with judgment. He will send a messenger (the name Malachi means “My messenger” which may be the reason for the attribution of the name to this book). The messenger will announce a covenant. Then will come to his temple and will purify his minsters and priests so that they may offer pure sacrifices in the temple.

Christian tradition finds the fulfillment of this prophecy in (1) the sending of john the Baptist (the messenger); (2) the incarnation—Yhwh coming in the person of Christ to his temple; and (3) the Eucharist, identified by the early Fathers as the pure offering. The purpose of the incarnation was seen in the establishment of the eschatological worship of God by a new, eschatological people.

Responsorial Psalm: 24:7, 8, 9, 10

In the Anglican liturgical tradition this psalm is associated with Ascension Day. It is equally suitable today, for it is one of the entrance psalms, composed for the processional entry of the king into the temple, thus fitting in with this feast and the First Reading.

Reading II: Hebrews 2:14-18

In this passage we have one of the clearest statements of the doctrine of the incarnation in the New Testament. In itself it would not necessarily imply the Son's preexistence, for it simply says that he was human like us and shared our common humanity. But the word “shared” (meteschen) is in the aorist tense, which implies that he began to share our humanity at a particular moment, and that there was a time when he did not share it.

Further, the hymn with which the letter to the Hebrews opens (Heb 1:1-4) shows clearly that the author accepted the preexistence Christology, and therefore his statements here about the humanity of Christ must be taken as an assertion of a real incarnation. This is stated in three terms: ”shared,” “partook of the same nature,” and “made like his brethren in every respect.”

Note here that the term homoioma, "likeness" has been introduced into Christological vocabulary already in the New Testament. Later on, the cognate homoiousios was found to be inadequate in a Christological context. The New Testament authors, had they known of the later heresies of Docetism and Arianism, would probably have avoided these terms. But when the author of Hebrews speaks of “likeness,” he certainly intends full identification with our humanity. The phrase “in every respect” makes this clear.

The doctrine of the incarnation is not pure metaphysical speculation. It is concerned with the reality of our salvation, as Athanasius and, later, Anselm were to stress. Here that purpose is defined as twofold:

(1) the destruction of death and the defeat of the devil (the Christus victor type of atonement language, championed a generation ago by the Swedish theologian Gustav Aulén).

(2) Christ's ongoing work as high priest: because of his humanity and experience shared with us, he is able to be a sympathetic and merciful high priest.

It is stated that he is a high priest “in the service of God,” that is, his high priestly service is performed in a Godward direction.He offers his sacrifice to God the Father once for all when he passes through the veil at his ascension, and he continually pleads it before the Father (Heb 7:25, 9:24). This is the first occurrence of the term “high priest” in Hebrews.

The author proceeds like a musician. giving a few prior adumbrations of his theme before developing it at length. Christ functionally “became” high priest at his ascension.We can see how the idea developed from Psalms 110:1, onof the earliest testimonia to be used after Easter. From here, the author of Hebrews moved to verse Psalm 110:4 and so developed the doctrine.

Gospel: Luke 2:22-40 or 2:22-32

The long form of the Gospel consists of the whole pericope of the presentation, in which Anna as well as Simeon respond to t he appearance of the Christ child in the temple. The short form omits the part about Anna and the concluding summary about the subsequent growth of the child. Unfortunately, the short form loses some of the point: there is a one-upmanship in the comparison of Jesus and the Baptist that the short form misses.

After his birth, John the Baptist is hailed by only one prophet (his father Zechariah. who sings the Benedictus). whereas the Christ child is hailed by two (Simeon with the Nunc dimittis, and Anna with her thanksgiving to God and her testimony to the bystanders). In addition to this one-upmanship, and perhaps as part of it, Simeon testifies to the universality of the mission of the Christ child: he is to be not only a glory of Israel but a light to illumine the Gentiles.

One curious feature of this account is that Simeon is given two oracles-the Nunc dimittis and the allocution to Mary, the mother of the child. It has been suggested that this duplication of oracles is the result of Luke’s subsequent addition of the canticle to his infancy narrative.

The Nunc dimittis is probably an early Christian liturgical psalm. Originally this psalm praised God, not just for the birth of the Messiah, but for the Christ-event in its entirety. The second o racle is parallel to th at pronounced by Elizabeth in Luke 1:42b-45, though it is rougher in style. The first oracle blesses God for the coming of the Christ and the prospect of salvation for the Gentiles, while the second predicts the future role of the child and his fate in Israel.

Reginald H. Fuller
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Preaching the Lectionary:
The Word of God for the Church Today

Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Liturgical Press. 1984 (Revised Edition), pp. 537-39.

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