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December 29, 2019
By Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this first weekend after Christmas comes from our Gospel text, where Luke records, And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought [Jesus] up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first 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.” Here ends our text; dear Christian friends…

During these Advent and Christmas seasons, we’ve talked quite a bit about fulfillment, specifically about the fulfillment of prophecies found throughout the Old Testament. By way of example, Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem is the fulfillment of what Micah wrote in his prophecy, But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days. See? Fits Jesus’s birth to a “T,” doesn’t it? This, of course, is by no means the only fulfillment found surrounding the birth of our incarnate Lord. In our Gospel text, we see a rather profound fulfillment of God’s Word of promise … though it may not be the one you’re thinking of.

The more obvious fulfillment is found with Simeon, as he sings his Nunc Dimittis. The Holy Spirit had promised that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. And as he raises the holy child up in his arms, praising God for allowing His servant to now depart in peace because he has seen God’s salvation, we see the fulfillment of that promise. Simeon has now seen the Lord’s Christ, and now he can rest in peace – whenever the Lord calls him to such rest.

As I said, that’s the more obvious fulfillment, but not the one we’ll focus on today. There’s another, but no, I’m not talking about the prophetess Anna, either. Scant information as there is on Simeon, there’s even less on Anna; we’re only told that she’s the daughter of Phanuel, that she’s from the tribe of Asher, that she’s been a widow most of her life, that she’s at least 84 years old, and that she spends her days and nights in the temple of God, worshipping with fasting and prayer. We’re not even told of any specific word of promise to be fulfilled to her, other than the overarching promise of the Messiah to come, and we do see her clearly perceiving that this promise has been made manifest in the presentation of this child 40 days after His birth.

Again, though, this is still not the fulfillment that we’re focusing on today. No, we will focus on the fulfillment that we see right away at the beginning of our text. Before Anna comes up to the temple and begins to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem, before Simeon takes the infant Jesus up in his arms and blesses the Lord, we see the fulfillment found in the intent and actions of Mary and Joseph. By the time of our text, Jesus is 40 days old, nearly six weeks, and the law required that His parents bring Him to the temple to fulfill the requirements prescribed by YHWH.

What requirements were those? Well first, there is the terse but nonetheless binding clause found in Exodus 13. In the wake of the first Passover and Pharaoh’s release of the Hebrews from bondage, YHWH tells Moses, Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine. In the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, YHWH preserved the firstborn of Israel. Thus, they would essentially be a firstfruit offering to God, and this would be a binding tradition upon all future generations of Israel.

That was what Mary and Joseph were called to do as Jesus’s parents – consecrate Him to YHWH as holy. Only problem was, Mary could not approach the temple because of the requirements of the Law found in Leviticus 12. There, YHWH tells Moses, Speak to the people of Israel, saying, “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 anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. … And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the Lord and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.”

To us, I’m sure this seems like a bit much, but to Israel, to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob at this time, it was the given obligation, based upon God’s Word. They had to wait the 40 days for Mary to go to the temple, and since they were poor, they had to give the poor-man’s sacrifice of a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons. Once that was done, I’m sure, the plan was to have their now-circumcised firstborn son consecrated to the Lord as a holy firstfruit offering, because He was the one that opened Mary’s virgin womb. They wanted to fulfill what the Law of God required of them and their firstborn son …. Well, that was the plan anyway.

This is where Simeon’s and Anna’s proclamations come into play. They recognize more clearly that this child is the only firstborn son who actually was holy to the Lord. Countless firstborn sons had come before Him from the tribes of Israel, and while many were undoubtedly consecrated to YHWH as holy and set apart, it’s highly dubious that any of them actually lived up to that standard. Every one of them, in spite of their consecrated status, would fail and sin in spectacular fashion – some in more dastardly ways than others. All were consecrated as holy, but none were holy … not so with Jesus. In Him, by virtue of His very nature as both God and man, we actually see the fulfillment of God’s promise that this firstborn son would be holy, set apart for God, for His purposes.

Even as Mary offers up the two turtledoves or pigeons (we don’t know which were used) because she and Joseph were too poor to offer up a lamb as well, Simeon and Anna recognize that they actually bear the Lamb, the Lamb of God, who would make atonement for the entire world. Unbeknownst to His parents, Jesus was set apart to make atonement in a way none of the prescribed sacrifices could: by offering Himself, as a holy, innocent victim, upon the cross of Calvary nearly 33 years after His presentation at the temple. By shedding His own innocent blood upon the ground of Golgotha, He would make atonement not only for Mary, not even for all women after they gave birth, but for the sins of the whole world, throughout time and space. Only God could make such atonement, and only the blood of God could pay the cost.

The presentation of Jesus at the temple is far more than the hopeful and comforting words of a dying man and an aged prophetess. Here, there are foreshadows of the work that this child, only 40 days old was going to do. Holy even before He was consecrated there that day, He would take the place of the sacrifices Mary and Joseph had gone to make. He is making all things new through His atoning sacrifice on the cross, and that includes you and me. Gaze at the Babe of Bethlehem and marvel as Simeon sings and lifts Him high. Sing God’s praises with Anna. What you are seeing in this holy child, who destined to die… is the fulfillment of God’s promise of atonement for sin – yours, and mine. A continued merry Christmastide to you all!

+ In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.

Tags: Luke 2:22-40