“Thus says the Lord GOD:
Lo, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you desire.
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
But who will endure the day of his coming?
And who can stand when he appears?
For he is like the refiner’s fire,
or like the fuller’s lye.
He will sit refining and purifying silver,
and he will purify the sons of Levi,
Refining them like gold or like silver
that they may offer due sacrifice to the LORD.
Then the sacrifice of Judah and Jerusalem
will please the LORD,
as in the days of old, as in years gone by.”
“At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror,
but then face to face.”
“Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Like the beam of a lightless star
Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what”
-W.S. Merwin, “For the Anniversary of my Death”
Today, forty days after Christmas, we celebrate the Feast of the Presentation, when He whom the prophets awaited was brought into the Temple, as Malachi predicts in today’s first reading. A veil has been lifted–partially, at least–for Christ will continue to lift the veil as he lives out His life, until the last veil, that of the Temple, is finally torn asunder at His Crucifixion. Or perhaps I should say that the last veil he will lift is that of death, defeating it on the Cross. And yet, we still do not know the hour or the day–of our own deaths or of the Lord’s ultimate coming. We wait for the Final Judgement with longing without even fully comprehending it, for as Malachi says, it will be like a “refiner’s fire,” or as Joel calls it, “a great and terrible day.” Why do we long for this day? Because we know that when all things are revealed at the end of time, it will ultimately be for God’s greater glory, and we will all be amazed at his justice and mercy. Because we long for the day when He will wipe away the tears from every eye, and make all things new, as He promised (Revelation 21:1-5). Because everything of this world is, as Paul says, “indistinct,” and we long for the clarity of eternity, of perfect love, and of praise.
That is the relief that allows Simeon to rest even to the point of dying–his death is not a comical moment or a sad one but truly the most longed-for moment of his life. Not because he was sadistic or pessimistic but because more than anything He desired closeness with His Savior, without even knowing yet who He would be, how He would arrive. We pray for a happy death, a death like Simeon’s, a death in which the Lord is close to us in Last Rites and close to us in friendship. Lord Jesus, help us long to be with you forever. Let nothing in our earthly lives distract us from our final goal, and let us prize nothing above Your love.