Text: Luke 2:22-24
The Presentation of Our Lord
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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today marks 40 days after Christmas. Why do we find the Holy Family in the temple? St. Luke tells us that two things took place in the temple: first, the sacrifice offered for Mary’s purification, and second, 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).
Note first the praise given to Mary and Joseph because of their obedience. Notice how they sacrifice even what little they have to make sure they listen to God’s Word and do what’s required of them. They offered “A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Lk 2:24). That tells us what Jesus is doing in the temple. It is His redemption day. To redeem means literally “to buy back.” It’s what you did to set a captive free. You paid the redemption price. In Egypt, God had spared the Israelites’ firstborn when the Angel of Death passed over. From that point on, all the firstborns were given to the 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. Every firstborn was spared from death by a lamb’s blood painted on the doorpost. Every Israelite parent was reminded of that night in Egypt when they redeemed their firstborn.
So, the One who is the redemption of Jerusalem, the redeemer of Israel, the redeemer of the whole world and all of humanity, is Himself redeemed by the poor sacrifice of two little pigeons. Not everyone could afford a 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. This sacrifice is a high cost to them.
Notice their willing obedience, and then look at how half-hearted and begrudging our obedience is. The example of Mary and Joseph puts us to shame. God can barely get us to obey him willingly. That’s why even we Christians need to hear his Law. There are times when we have to goad ourselves into obedience half-heartedly. St. Paul uses a vivid image to help us in Romans 12. He urges you “to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Ro 12:1). You must present your bodies to God. You must lay your whole self on the altar like a sacrifice in the temple. Your evil thoughts and desires need to be put to death. Your wants, hopes, and dreams must be sacrificed since God has first place. Christian living is the glad self-offering of your whole self to the God whose mercy has come all the way to meet us in our rebellion, sin and death. Christ offered His body as a bloody sacrifice. Now you, as a baptized Christian, offer your bodies as unbloody, living sacrifices of praise and thanksgiving. That calls for a new way of thinking. The world’s way of looking at things won’t get you there. Don’t be conformed to this world and the way it thinks. You are in the world, but you are not of the world. Instead, be transformed by the renewal of your mind. For all of God’s goodness to us, we ought to thank God and listen to him; instead, we become belligerent, unruly, and unwilling to do what is right and good. Since God has shown abundant mercy to you, present your life as an offering to God.
Moses instructed that for 40 days after giving birth, a new mother “shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purifying are completed.” ( 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. Mary spent most of her time touching the Most Holy Thing you could handle, the Incarnate God himself. She doesn’t have much choice, though, does she? Who else will feed, change, and lovingly care for baby Jesus? Moses required a sacrifice because a mother brought a sinner into the world. So, she had to be purified. But that isn’t quite how it went with Mary.
Mary’s child was not a sinner. Even though Jesus shares in our flesh and blood, He does not have our sin. So, 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 fulfil 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. Remember that God had spared the Israelites’ firstborn when the Angel of Death passed over. After that, all the firstborns 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. The blood of the Lamb was painted on the doorpost, and it purchased each firstborn.
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 doing his will henceforward. In presenting their firstborn, 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 placed himself under the burden of the Law. He shed his blood to fulfill 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 – and the Law shows us the unpaid bill and condemns us. The Law accuses us because our debt to God must be paid. Either we give perfect, sinless, holy, active obedience, or there must be a substitutionary death. That’s what this Child in Simeon’s arms is all about. He actively fulfils the Law with His perfect life. He passively fulfils 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 His Holy Supper. His life and 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. Jesus presented His body on the cross as an atoning sacrifice. Your bodies are His, redeemed by His blood. “You were bought with a price.” You are holy and acceptable because of his sacrifice for you. Now present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God. 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. This is your spiritual worship.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.