January 31st 2021 – Candlemas Mal 3:1-4; Luke 2:22-40
Amidst the bloody mess
Being a priest is a bloody business. From morning to night slaughtering all these animals and offering them as burnt offerings. Those were the good old days. Today, the only things the priest tries to slaughter are their emails. But not back then. If you imagined the scene of our reading today—as often depicted—to have taken place in some kind of Gothic Cathedral like Temple in Jerusalem with 1000 candles burning and this typical mystical and romantic atmosphere of an ancient church, well, better forget it.
Simeon didn’t chant Gregorian chants into the silence when he said the famous words of the Nunc Dimittis, the song of Simeon, as we call it in English. It must have been loud, busy, maybe hot, animals making noises and smell and wobbling over it all the smell of the burned offerings; worse than a gigantic McDonalds next to your house on a hot summer day. In this mess, Simeon and Anna discovered the child: Jesus; brought to Jerusalem by his parents to be presented to the priests as was the custom.
But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he (the chosen one of God) appears? (Mal 3:2a), asks the prophet Malachi.
Well, I think I wouldn’t have managed to stand that day with that bloody mess all around in the temple. However, the prophet Malachi had something else in mind, of course, when he asked this question long before Jesus was born. He imagined God’s chosen one to be so powerful and awesome—in the old meaning of the word—that no one could stand to look at him, to be in his presence. Little did he know that God did not decide to appear in an awesome powerful superhuman being but as a vulnerable child. The prophetic question has not lost its relevance, though.
Who can endure the day of his coming? … For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; (Mal 3:2).
Well, great, you might think; nothing more appropriate than comparing Christ with soap, especially considering that mess in the temple. That gives the story of the Cleansing of the Temple quite another twist. But no, that’s not the point. In this chosen one, in Jesus, we encounter humanity as it was intended by God and who can stand it to see how far the actual humanity, how far each of us, has moved from that original creation? Christ became human in the world to be a light; a light to enlighten the Gentiles—us that is. Christ confronts us with the real us that is hidden somewhere inside.
The famous Swiss theologian Karl Barth did not get tired to remind everyone who’d listen that God is not human like we, or a father or a mother like our concept of father or mother; God is not like a friend, a shepherd… God is the real humanity and God is the real father or mother and our idea of what a parent is, comes from God, not the other way round. God is not the vague copy of our human concepts, God is the original from which all our concepts come and if we want to change something in this world, we have to focus again on the true source of all being and adjust ourselves and our concepts of justice, right and wrong, our judgements and our way of life according to this light which gave Simeon all he needed to go in peace, this light for which Anna had been waiting for in the temple for decades. If we look to this light instead of our self-made concepts, we’ll find our true self which is in us, we’ll find the peace as Simeon, which God had long planted in our hearts and we’ll be ready for God’s Kingdom and the light will show us that it is already there waiting for us. As at Christmas, it is not hidden somewhere, it is here among us in the ordinary life, where a poor woman gives birth in a stable o in the midst of the crowds of the temple, in all the business and noise.
It is our challenging calling to find the child, every day anew in the mess of every day life, with its choirs of angels and its bloody mess, in the beauty of a peaceful forest and in the midst of this Corona pandemic. At the celebration of a new birth or the bedside of a dying person. God is present in all of this and Simeon and Anna could see that. Can we?