THE GOSPEL reading for the First Sunday of Christmas defines Jesus further, as a child who though the Son of God, clearly possessed flesh and blood human attributes. No figment of our imagination, Luke tells us that Jesus’ participation in family is thus defined as having much wider meaning than most in the church of his day could have ever thought poissible. We read…
And 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 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said.., “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother.., “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”
And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanu-el, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
And when they had performed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned into Galilee, to their own city, Nazareth. And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him. (Luke 2:22-40)
Long Watching and Waiting
Our text from Luke describes events for the child Jesus, and his family, as unfolding in keeping the traditions of the Law. Within eight days, Jesus was circumcised and named. This profound act set the child apart first as a Jew, and then as an individual within society. Jesus was also to be presented as first born by Joseph, and as it was written Joseph had to pay the required five shekels. (Exodus 13:2, Numbers 18:15-16)
The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘If a woman conceives, and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as at the time of her menstruation, she shall be unclean.’ And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying; she shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. (Leviticus 12:1-5)
Therefore, forty days later the purification of Mary was accomplished at the temple, Until then, considered to be separate and unclean while in menses, if travel was needed a Jewish woman would be required to ride an oxen. The animal had a wide back so that menstrual blood would not reach the ground and soil a sepulcher.
When the forty days had past for a mother, those sufficient in worldly goods would often sacrifice a lamb. In those days, a lamb would cost about one dollar and seventy-five cents. If the woman was poor, however, the price of either doves or pigeon would suffice. They were available at a cost of about sixteen cents each. However... any offering made. whether large of small, would not be done personally by the woman. She was not allowed entry into the temple. She could not bring the creatures in, but would drop the purchase price given into one of the thirteen trumpet-shaped chests located in the Court of the Women. It is pleasant indeed that her son Jesus would change these things for the better, eliminating the way women were excluded in that male-dominated society.
Consequently, it was during the performance of these lawful, traditional rituals that Mary, Joseph and the others with them received further revelation. Shortly after the Rite of Purification was completed, Simeon (a name meaning “sign”) noted the child’s presence in the courtyard. Simeon was a righteous and devout man. He had practiced strict adherence to the Law. Taking his faith very seriously and looking after his spiritual condition, he was seen widely as one who walked constantly with God by the power of the Holy Spirit. In this capacity his prophetic statements were profoundly revered. Through him, the announcement came that the Light of God’s love had arrived. Jesus, a child already born and given to Israel, was prophetically thus said by Simeon to expand faith into the Gentile nations. Through the Messiah then, Israel thus would attain its true and highest glory.
The prophecy of Simeon, often read or spoken in the infant Christian household churches of Luke’s day, therefore reinforced the acceptance of Greeks, Romans and other peoples into the faith community. These persons were solidly anchored by Luke’s writing as participants in the mission of the church. They participated in the receiving of “holy things for holy people”.
At the time of that first temple visit, Joseph and Mary marveled at what was said by Simeon. But to Mary, he had given warning. The prophet revealed more of the child’s Messianic role. He foretold that a broad sword’s wound described Mary’s future deep and painful pang. It was the very pain of Jesus crucifixion that would to be felt by her. Her son would be nailed to the cross for the salvation of believers. This was the strife and the result foretold by Simeon in scripture…
And he will become a sanctuary, and a stone of offense, and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble thereon; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:13-16)
Then Luke stressed that the elderly prophetess Anna appeared. She announced the child Jesus to all with her within that courtyard. Here we must note that this was not a public broadcast to the temple authorities. The intent was not to inform the temple authorities. The words were spoken to the pious ones who had prayed daily with her in the courtyard. It was especially those lowly who had long waited with her for the Messiah.
That Mary and Joseph took Jesus to the temple so that all “righteousness” should be fulfilled, puts these events on the same level of importance in Luke’s gospel, as the later baptism of Jesus in the Jordan. As Jesus had told John during that later event, that baptism should happen so that “all righteousness should be fulfilled”. In Luke then, this is the multiple testimony to his readers that Jesus was raised according to the Law, and none were broken. From that early time the child Jesus would grow in favor before his family, and he maintained the code of innocence given as empowered by his heavenly Father. In this way the Messiah, having fulfilled the Law in its entirety… and yet having been crucified… could pay the penalty not for his own waywardness… but he laid down his life to pay for our disobedience and separation from God. This deliberate saving act of God made through his only begotten Son, accomplished holy satisfaction for our sin. To God be the glory! Such was the witness of Simeon, Anna and Luke when they announced that the Messiah… the Deliverer… had come into the world. Indeed, on this day we consider again their words… and marvel. Thanks be to God!