Summary: As Mary & Joseph bring Jesus to the Temple, it provides an opportunity for the aged priest Simeon to further reveal the significance of the baby Jesus--the fulfillment of God's promises & our hopes & dreams, the source of rest & peace for our souls.
As you all know, we have spent weeks building up to Christmas and our celebration of Christ’s birth. And such anticipation is appropriate, it takes much preparation to welcome a new baby…if there’s anyone who knows that right now, it’s me! But I do hope that our Advent time of preparation together enabled you to celebrate Christmas in a powerful way this year, knowing and experiencing the presence of Christ in new ways. And I am so glad that we are gathered here this morning to continue our worship of God and celebration of the Savior’s birth. Because here’s the thing, when it comes to having a baby, it doesn’t only involve a lot of preparation, beforehand, there are also a lot of new experiences after the baby is born.
You know what I mean, right? There are all those “firsts” that are such a big deal with a new baby. Baby’s first photo, baby’s first ride in the car seat, baby’s arrival at home. For many of us, the baby’s first day at church is important, or the first time the baby is introduced to his or her extended family. And then there are the more mundane things, like baby’s first trip to Target, or baby’s first time in the Starbucks drive-thru.
As it turns out, parents’ observance and celebration of their newborn’s “firsts” is a long-standing tradition. Today it involves some of those things I just mentioned, but 2,000 years ago, the ways parents celebrated their newborns happened in somewhat different ways. In the case of those of Jewish heritage, there were clearly defined laws regarding the earliest days of a newborn’s life. As devout Jews, Joseph and Mary would have followed these regulations closely, and Luke records their diligent observance. Just before the passage we read this morning, Luke tells us that eight days after Jesus was born, his parents circumcised him and gave him the name Jesus, as instructed by the angel before he was born. Where we pick up this morning, forty days have passed since Jesus’ birth, and his parents are in the Temple for another “first,” another rite of passage.
The visit of the Holy Family to the Temple on this occasion actually serves a dual purpose. First, Mary is bringing an offering for her right of purification. You see, according to Jewish custom, after giving birth, women were considered ritually unclean for a period of forty days, at which time they had to bring an offering to the Temple to be declared ritually clean by the priest. The second purpose of the visit to the Temple that we read about this morning relates to Jesus. You see, according to Jewish custom, the first-born male of every household belonged to God. It was expected that they would grow up, learn the ways of the priests and serve in God’s Temple. However, it was possible for parents to bring an offering to, in a sense, “buy back” the child so that he could grow up and continue the family trade, or inherit the family land, and so on. So that is the offering Mary and Joseph have come to make. The normal offering was a lamb, but there was a provision for the poor, and that is what Jesus’ earthly parents bring to the Temple, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”