Occasionally, when I’m baptizing an infant, the baby starts to smile or laugh. Every time it happens, I’m transfixed. An infant’s smile is difficult to ignore; an infant’s laughter is among the most engaging events in the universe.
Today, we celebrate an event in the life of an infant, the newborn Savior. The Gospel passage, taken from Luke’s narrative of the infancy of Jesus, offers a unique perspective on the nature of God and the nature of how to relate to God.
The feast of the Presentation of the Lord provides a stark reminder of the true nature of God. The “messenger of the covenant” (Mal. 3:1), foretold by the prophet Malachi was brought to the Temple in observance of the prescriptions of the Mosaic law governing first-born sons. That great and terrible day of the coming of the Lord to the Temple (Mal. 3:1), is hardly an image of judgment or destruction. The infant Jesus is presented to the Temple priests in all the humble powerlessness of infancy.
If the infant Jesus had smiled or laughed during the event of the Presentation, I’m sure that the Temple priests would have reacted in the exactly the same way that I do when an infant smiles during the Baptismal ritual. There is something endearing about the sight of an infant. When an infant is brought into a room, everyone pays attention. Shouldn’t we pay attention, then, when God chooses to reveal the Divine nature in an infant?
In addition to revealing God as humble and patient, the Presentation of the infant Jesus in the Temple provides a metaphor to describe the appropriate way for one to relate to God.
Infants are not common here at All Saints, but it isn’t their scarcity that provokes wide-eyed stares at liturgy. Human nature is predisposed to look after the welfare of infants. The single-minded attention that infants elicit from adults is a good metaphor to describe how one should relate to God. The only appropriate way to view God is loving adoration.
At this juncture, I should probably acknowledge that I run the risk of encouraging a consumer’s materialistic and sentimental approach to religion by pointing to the infant Jesus as an image of God. Sadly, we live in a culture that uses everything, including the sacred, for personal entertainment. Despite the inherent danger of doing so, it is instructive to see some small degree of similarity between human nature’s predisposition to infants and human nature’s obligation to worship God. The Scriptures instruct us to look longingly at God, to find comfort in doing so, and to cherish the time we spend in God’s presence.
The reason that we gather as a congregation to celebrate Eucharist is to look lovingly into the eyes of God, to give God our full and complete attention, and to be lifted out ourselves – just a little. The celebration of the Eucharist is much less about what we receive than about what we give; we gather here in order to give God our full and conscious worship.
At his Presentation in the Temple, the infant Jesus was revealed as the humble messenger of the new covenant between God and humanity. The message of this new covenant is heard clearly by those who are willing to experience God’s presence in this infant.