The Refiner and Purifier

Malachi 3:1-4    Luke 2:22-40

     Presentation of Our Lord

Today is the 40th day after Christmas.  We have traveled a long way on Sunday mornings since the baby Jesus was born.  The Wise Men came to visit this holy child.  Jesus grew up, and was baptized by John.  He called his disciples to follow him.

Today we go back in time to when Jesus was an infant. Forty days after this baby’s birth, Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present him, to offer him, to the Lord.  In accordance with Jewish law, Mary was required to present herself as well.  She needed to be declared clean 40 days after giving birth.  It was also necessary that the family present a sacrifice.  Which animal was given to sacrifice depended upon the wealth of the family.  According to the law, a “pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons,” was what this poor family was to offer.  This was a far cry from a spotless lamb that someone of stature would bring.

No matter when you might have gone to this temple, you would have found Anna. Anna spent years, every day, and every night, praying and waiting for her savior to come.  Simeon, too, was praying expectantly.   The Holy Spirit had assured him that he would see the Lord’s Messiah, and it was the Holy Spirit who guided Simeon to the temple that day.  When Jesus’ parents brought him into the temple, Anna and Simeon were there, waiting.

Listen again to what Simeon told Jesus’ mother Mary:

This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.

Mary’s soul would be pierced when the nails pierced her son’s hand and feet.  The core of her being would crumble as she stood at the foot of the cross, unable to stop his lungs from filling with fluid.  I wonder how long Mary pondered in her heart what Simeon told her.

Today, February 2, is the feast day of the Presentation of Our Lord.  When we celebrate this day, we remember Jesus and his family’s obedience to the law.  The law was an important part of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.

When Jesus got older, he entered the temple again to find the money changers, and those selling sacrificial animals.  These were dishonest people exploiting the law for their own gain.  Jesus poured their coins out onto the floor, grabbed tables and turned them upside down. With a whip of cords, Jesus drove them out. He said, “’Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up’” [John 2:19].

Jesus was speaking of the destruction of his body. His actions in the temple drew him closer to death.  He would soon be arrested, and hung on a cross to die.  Treason, or political insurrection were the charges.  His accusers taunted him, putting a crown of thorns on his head and a purple robe hung across his shoulders.  Some of the religious leaders said, “’We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God’” (John 19:7].

When Simeon beheld the baby Jesus, his eyes saw not only the sword that would pierce Mary’s soul, he also saw salvation. Simeon could only speak so honestly about death while he was standing in the light of the promised Messiah.  Holding the Word made flesh, Simeon praised God, My eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and the glory of your people Israel. Simeon could die in peace, knowing that in and through this child, God fulfilled God’s promises.  Jesus will bring salvation.  No longer will people need to go to the Temple to be purified.

The prophet Malachi described the Messiah as one like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver. Christ’s presence with us changes us.  God comes to us, washing us clean in the waters of baptism.  Our being made clean and pure and holy is God’s doing, not ours.

Today is Groundhog Day, and I have to admit, the movie of the same name is one of my favorites. Without giving too much away, because I know that now you all want to see this movie, let me share some of the story with you. The main character, Phil, a self-centered and rude reporter, was sent to Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to cover the groundhog’s weather prediction.  Supposedly, his ex-girlfriend put a curse on him, and he relived Groundhog Day over and over.  He woke up every morning remembering what had happened.  Although the same things would happen again, he was able to change his behavior.  Eventually, he became a generous and selfless person and lived happily-ever-after.

I love this movie partly because it is so antithetical to Lutheran theology.  We are not capable of perfection.  We are neither 100 % saint, nor 100% sinner. We are both. Luther said that our faith deepens the more we understand this.

We cannot even keep our New Year’s resolutions!  Despite all the self-help books and web sites, we fall short.  We miss the mark.  Maybe we don’t need to relive every day trying to make ourselves better.  We need to place ourselves and our faith in the one who refines and purifies us, the one who loves us, apart from what we do or do not do.  For God so loved the world.

~Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin

Author: Pastor Cheryl Griffin

Pastor Cheryl Ann Griffin thinks God has a sense of humor for leading her into ministry, but can’t imagine doing anything else! Pastor Griffin received her BA degree from the College of William and Mary. She worked as an accountant before God led her to the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg, where she received her Master of Divinity degree. In the Virginia Synod, Pastor Griffin is a member of the Ministerium Team and frequently leads small groups at synod youth events. She is also a representative to the VA Synod Council.