Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, February 02, 2014

The Purification of Mary and The Presentation of Our Lord

The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord

February 2, 2014
Text: Luke 2:22-40

            The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord.  Two things are going on here in our commemoration  on this feast day.  The first is that Mary is offering the sacrifice of her purification.  Giving birth made a Jewish woman ceremonially unclean, which meant that she could not participate in the regular life of the community, and particularly in the religious rituals of the Jews.  Blood and other bodily discharges were unclean things in the Old Testament, not sinful in and of themselves, but pictures of our sinful uncleanness.  And so when a woman gave birth, she would bring the prescribed sacrifice to the Temple 40 days later in the case of a son, or twice that in the case of a daughter.  If she had the means, she was to bring a year old lamb for a burnt offering and a turtledove or a pigeon for a sin offering (Lev. 12:6).  If she could not afford a lamb, she was to bring two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and one for a sin offering, to make atonement for her uncleanness (v. 8).  After this, she would be pronounced clean by the priest.
            The second thing that we are commemorating today, which happens simultaneously, is the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple.  Forty days into His young life, our Lord Jesus comes into His House for the first time.  Here, at the Temple, He is redeemed, bought back by His parents.  That is the second, and perhaps more important significance of the sacrifices.  For the firstborn of all flesh are holy to the LORD.  The firstborn belong to Him.  This was His commandment to the people of Israel, and it all stems from that first Passover in Egypt, when the angel of death killed all the Egyptian firstborn of man and beast from the slave in the field to the son of Pharaoh, but passed over the blood spattered dwellings of the Hebrews.  The firstborn of Israel were spared, by God’s mercy, on account of the blood of the Lamb painted over the doorposts and lintels of their homes.  And so now the firstborn are the LORD’s possession.  The firstborn of beasts were to be redeemed by offering another animal as a substitute, or their necks were to be broken.  The firstborn sons were to be redeemed by their parents with the sacrifices of the mother’s purification (Ex. 13:12-13; Num. 18:15).  They were redeemed and their mothers were made pure by the blood of sacrifice. 
            What is peculiar, of course, about this particular purification and redemption is that this birth is not unclean.  This is the birth of the sinless Son of God, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.  Mary needs no purification, for her purification comes from her sinless Son, Jesus.  Jesus needs no redemption, for He has come Himself to be the Lamb offered upon the altar of the cross for the redemption of every firstborn, of every child, of every mother including His own, of every unclean sinner, including you.  And yet, here is the Holy Family, offering the prescribed sacrifices.  Here our Lord is willingly placing Himself under the Law of God for us.  He is fulfilling it for us, in order that the Law become powerless over us.  He is taking our place.  He is making the final payment for those Israelites who were spared in Egypt so long ago, and for every one of us who have been spared by God’s mercy.  The firstborn Son of God is redeeming us to be God’s sons, as well.  St. Paul puts it this way: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Gal. 4:4-5; ESV).
            You are God’s son!  Even you daughters, by the way.  The son receives the inheritance, and so this is the great Good News of this text for all of you, men and women.  In submitting Himself to the Law, our Lord Jesus redeems you from the Law, from its threats and demands, from its condemnation, so that you may receive the adoption as God’s son, and so receive the whole inheritance, all that is His, the very Kingdom of heaven.  Simeon declares it as he takes the Baby Jesus in his arms.  The Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not see death until he had seen the Lord’s Christ, the Savior, and now in this Baby, he knows that the Lord has made good on His promise.  Now, this is not due to the little Lord Jesus’ appearance.  The Temple is a crowded place, and no one else is making such a big deal out of this particular Baby.  But the Holy Spirit has revealed this to Simeon.  And so Simeon, taking the Baby from His mother’s arms, holds Him up and sings to Him a song you all know, the Nunc Dimittis (Luke 2:29-32): “Lord” – and he’s praying to the Baby, by the way – “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word,” now I can die with confidence and joy, why?  “(F)or my eyes have seen your salvation,” your Christ, my Savior, and the Savior of the world, “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel,” indeed, the Savior of Jews and Gentiles alike, of all people… even you.  Yes, he’s prophesying about you, how you would come to faith in this same little Baby he now holds in his arms.  And you even sing his song when you come back from Holy Communion where you have held that same Body in your hands or received it in your mouth, your Light, your Glory, your Salvation, in the flesh.  And now you can depart in peace, die with confidence and joy, for this salvation has become your own.  In Him you have the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
            Simeon tells us how it will happen.  He says that Jesus is appointed by God for the fall and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed.  That is to say, you can’t be neutral about Jesus.  You either believe in Him or you don’t.  If you don’t, you fall, you’re condemned.  If you do, you rise, you have eternal life.  And He is a scandal.  For His sign is His naked, bruised, and bloody Body raised up on the tree of the cross as the sacrifice for your redemption.  That’s the sword that will pierce Mary’s soul.  There at the foot of that cross we see His mother in maternal agony over her Son’s suffering and death.  But don’t be scandalized.  Don’t be deceived by the appearance of things.  This is nothing less than the redemption of Israel and of the whole world.  This is your salvation.  Simeon proclaims it, and so does another faithful Israelite at the Temple that day, the prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.  She, too, had been waiting for this Baby to come and deliver her.  From the day she was widowed as a young bride, she had continued in the Temple, worshiping, fasting, praying night and day, waiting upon the Lord.  And now He had come.  Upon seeing the Lord Jesus, she could not contain herself, but giving thanks to God, she spoke of the Savior to everyone who would listen, “to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38), to all who were waiting for God to make good on His promise to send Messiah to crush the serpent’s head (Gen. 3:15).
            What makes this day momentous for you, dear Christian, is that here the Lord Jesus, the firstborn Son of God, redeems you to be God’s son.  The sacrifice He makes here is the fulfillment of the Law which you could not fulfill.  Sacrifice all the sheep and turtledoves and pigeons you like, you can never make yourself clean from sin.  But He can.  And He does.  For this sacrifice is but a foreshadowing of His once for all sacrifice on the cross, the sacrifice of redemption for the whole world and the sacrifice of purification for your sin.  And Jesus still comes into His Temple.  He still makes His dwelling with men.  He still comes in His flesh to His House to be with His people.  Here He is, the risen and living Lord Jesus, offering us the fruits of His cross on His altar, His true Body and Blood.  Here He is, the fulfillment of the prophets’ proclamation, the Baby held up with joy and praise by Simeon, the redemption of Jerusalem confessed by Anna.  He is right here in the preaching of His Word.  For you.  To forgive your sins.  To make you clean.  To declare, as your High Priest, that you are pure with His purity, that you are holy with His holiness, that you are God’s own child, baptized into Christ, that you are the Father’s beloved son.  With Simeon you see your salvation in the Lord Jesus.  With Anna you confess Him to all who will listen.  And you know without a doubt that you can die in peace and joy, for this One who has redeemed you will also raise you from the dead.  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.             


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