Malachi 3:1-4 | Hebrews 2:12-18 | Luke 2:22-40
“When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord.”
Today, with St. Luke the Evangelist, the church recalls Jesus’ presentation in the temple at Jerusalem: the place where the presence of YHWH was understood to dwell, where heaven and earth overlapped in perfect resonance. This was YHWH’s chosen dwelling-place.This was the site of prayer, sacrifice, and pilgrimage, rebuilt by Herod to “recapture the glory of the Solomonic temple.”
The temple, temple language, and temple imagery likely do not resonate with us in the same vivid ways they did for the faithful of antiquity. The distances of time and cultural ethos have changed our relationship to temple language in deep, subconscious ways, but the image hangs over Luke’s gospel from beginning to end in ways both subtle and obvious. Mentioned more than seventy times, the temple features prominently within the vocabulary of Luke’s text when compared with the other gospels. Luke draws our attention to it at specific points in the narration of his gospel, and it comes to occupy a place of importance in his account of Jesus’ work, ministry, and self-understanding; destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up.
The insights of N.T. Wright’s scholarship on the place and meaning of the temple in the ancient Israelite imagination are helpful here, and may help us to understand the unique—and uniquely executed—roll the temple played in the story of God’s people and their salvation. Wright notes that the language of Genesis depicts creation as a temple writ-large, complete with its very own liturgical expressions, seasons, and creaturely processions, all united in a diverse, vivid chorus of praise to YHWH. And at the end of it all, Wright urges us to notice, YHWH finishes the temple by adorning it with an image of the deity—without which, as ancient people readily understood, no temple would be complete. That image-bearing creature, Genesis tells us, is us.
This is a vision of creation itself as a temple—and the temple as a microcosm of creation—the site where YHWH desires to dwell with his creatures, where heaven and earth overlap in perfect harmony. It is a vision we find at not only the beginning of the Bible, but also in its final pages, when YHWH reunites heaven and earth, restoring and renewing the whole creation in Christ, when at last there will be no need for temples, “for [the] temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there.”
And so today we hear of the infant Jesus’ presentation in the temple, and the aged Simeon sees immediately what Luke asks us to see: in Jesus Christ the intersection of heaven and earth begins as he, the perfect image of the Father, is brought into the Jerusalem temple, the microcosm of YHWH’s creation. Simeon sees in Jesus the completion of the temple—not merely a site in Jerusalem, but the whole of creation itself. At last, YHWH was coming to dwell with his image-bearing people.
Let us see as Simeon saw as the Incarnate Word the Father breaks into the creation and begins the task of raising YHWH’s lost children to their original place as YHWH’s image-bearing people. The Word, who spoke the vast temple of creation into being, comes to speak new words of salvation, and in so doing gathers us all into the true temple of Christ’s body. The risen and ascended Christ, who has “become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God,”is gathering all creation to himself, to a renewed creation, a renewed temple, where YHWH and his people will at last dwell together.
Behold, beloved, YHWH is making all things new, making all things complete. Where is Jesus’ presence in your life shining new light? Where is his touch completing the temple of your life? Ponder where his light and life might be softening your heart, gently washing away the soot of pretense and alienation as he presents, wounds and all, you: an image-bearer being made in Christ’s glorified likeness, an image of the Divine Name?
Luke 2:22. All scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Cf. Deut. 12:21; 1 Kings 8:29; Ps. 132
Peter Head, “The Temple in St. Luke’s Gospel,” in Heaven on Earth: The Temple in Biblical Theology, T.D. Alexander, S.J. Gathercole, eds. (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2004, 101–119), 102
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