Text: Luke 2:22-40
The Purification of the B.V. M. and the Presentation of our Lord
Grace to you and Peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Lord had instructed Moses that for a full 40 days after giving birth the new mother, “shall touch no holy thing, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying be fulfilled.” ( Lev. 12:4). Isn’t this a bit ironic in the case of the virgin Mary? For those 40 days, she was touching a holy thing. She was spending most her time touching a holy thing. She was touching the Most Holy Thing you could touch, the Incarnate God himself. She really doesn’t have much of a choice though does she? Who else is going to feed, change, and lovingly care for little baby Jesus? Moses reasons that since she brought a sinner into the world, she therefore must be purified. But that isn’t quite how it went, is it? This child was virgin born. When God the Holy Ghost himself comes upon a woman and the power of the Most High overshadows her, she doesn’t really need the purification prescribed by Moses. Even though Jesus shares in our flesh and blood, He does not share in the Sin of our Father Adam. From what then does Mary need to be purified if her son is the sinless Son of God? Why are they in the Temple?
Put to Shame by Their Example
St. Luke tells us of three things which took place in the Temple 40 days after Christmas: first, the purification of Mary, second, they offered the sacrifice, and third, they presented six week old Jesus to God in the Temple. With each of these events Luke says it happened “according to the law of the Lord. ” (Lk 2:22-24, 39).
The first thing we must notice about this is the praise given to Mary and Joseph because of their obedience. Mary knew well that she was a virgin. She knew that according to the letter of the Law, she did not need purification nor was she required to offer a sacrifice. She knew that Moses was speaking about women who became pregnant the normal way. But, not everyone would understand her situation. She might offend those who found out. So, she did what every woman in her culture was obligated to do.
And it’s not that she was concerned about her reputation or the opinions and potential sneers of others. She does it at great cost to herself. She offered “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Lk 2:24). Not everyone could afford the customary lamb for the sacrifice, so the Law gave provision for the poor. Mary and Joseph are not wealthy people. They are poor. Yet despite their poverty, they don’t use this miraculous birth to save some of their precious time and money.
Notice their willing obedience. Notice how they sacrifice even what little they have, just to make sure they listen to God’s Word and do what’s required of them. Notice it, and then look at how half-hearted and begrudging our obedience is. The example of Mary and Joseph put us to shame. God can barely get us to obey him willingly, and so he needs to send his Law even to us Christians to threaten us with eternal punishment, so that we would half-heartedly goad ourselves into obedience. We do not do the things that the Lord requires of us. We do not love our neighbours as ourselves. We do not love the God from whom we have everything good in life, with our whole heart. Parting with a twenty dollar bill to help the Church or the poor is like pulling teeth. Often we use the Gospel as an excuse to not obey God’s law. We use the freedom we have been given in Christ to “do that which was right in our own eyes.” (Jdg 21:25). For all of God’s goodness to us we ought to thank God and listen to him, instead we become belligerent and unruly, and unwilling to do what is right and good. This is one reason why St. Luke refers to the Law in our Gospel Lesson.
Presented to God as Our Redeemer
But, what’s Jesus doing in the temple? Here we get to the heart of the matter. The answer is given: he’s fulfilling the Law of the Lord. Whatever Jesus does, and whatever is done to Him, is to fulfill all righteousness, to accomplish all that is written in the Law. At eight days He was circumcised under the Law. At six-weeks, He was Presented to God in the temple, in accordance with the Law of Moses. He has joined the human race, not only sharing in our flesh and bone, but sharing in our burden, the burden of being under the Law.
It is also His redemption day. To redeem means literally “to buy back.” It’s what you did to set a slave free. You paid the redemption price. Since God had spared the firstborn of all of the Israelites when the Angel of Death passed over, from that point on all the firstborn were to be given to Lord. “Every male that opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord.” (Lk 2:23.) If it is an animal you sacrifice it. If it is a baby, you pay the Redemption price. When a baby was redeemed, it reminded every Israelite parent of that fateful night in Egypt when the firstborn was redeemed by the blood of the Lamb painted on the doorpost, the night when Death passed over.
Yet, Mary and Joseph don’t pay Jesus redemption price. No, like little Samuel in the Old Testament he is presented before the Lord at the Temple and dedicated to do his will henceforward. In presenting their first born, Mary and Joseph were saying to God, “He’s all yours, but couldn’t we please have him back just for a little while.” In that way, Jesus took His place with every baby boy in Israel.
The Redeemer was not redeemed, so that he could redeem you. He was placed under the burden of the Law, so that His blood might be shed under the Law, to buy you back from captivity to Death. Because of our sin, we are slaves to Sin and Death. We are born in a debtor’s prison. There is an outstanding bill to be paid – and the Law shows us the unpaid bill and condemns us, the Law accuses our consciences. That debt must be paid. There must be obedience – perfect, sinless, holy, active obedience. There must be a death – perfect, sinless, spotless, unblemished sacrificial death. That’s what this Child in Simeon’s arms is all about. He is the fulfillment of the Law. He actively fulfills it with His perfect life. He passively fulfills it with His perfect death. And as disobedient as you are, He still gives you the benefits of his death, feely, as a gift, given in your Baptism and in His Holy Supper. His life, His death are yours.
You are redeemed: Purchased and won from Sin, Death, and captivity to the power of the devil. Not with gold or silver. Money can’t redeem a life. It takes blood. The holy precious blood and the innocent suffering and death of Jesus Christ in your place, who became a Sin Offering, embracing you in your Death, so that you might be His own (belong to Him), and live under Him in His kingdom, and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness, as surely as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. May our dear God and Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, his Son, grant us his grace through his Holy Spirit that we may join to sing along with beloved Simeon and also depart in peace. Amen.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.