Homily preached at Warrimoo on Sunday 28th December 2014:
First Sunday after Christmas. Year B.
“3 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:1, NRSV)
Isaiah 61:10-62:3 ; Psalm 148; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40
It is now 40 days since the birth of Christ and if Matthew drew our attention to Kings bringing portentous gifts to the King of kings it is Luke who now reveals to us a first born son, a human child, being brought to the Temple beginning his lifetime of obedience to the Ordinances of his God.
Saint Paul focuses our perspective to that end in the second reading when he explains that only when the right time had come God sent his son into the world, “born of a woman”, he says and therefore born under the law. No one other than the perfect law abider could qualify to redeem those bound by the law.
Our Gospel today focuses on two of the three Ordinances required of the parents and their new born if they are to fulfil the obligations they owe to God and their Nation upon the birth of a child, the first having been his circumcision, mentioned in verse 21
The child was circumcised on the 8th day, according to the Law, and given the name Jesus, as the angel had foretold before his birth; circumcision was the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (Genesis 17:9-14). It marked Jesus as a member of that covenant community. It was a personal covenant. It was made between God and the family of Abraham. Outsiders were excluded.
Then –The family returned to the Temple where the two remaining Ordinances were fulfilled, firstly the Purification of Women which we read of in Leviticus 12.
In outward appearance Jesus was a perfectly normal human child, born of a Jewish mother subject to the Law, who now came into the Temple with her husband and child to be purified so that she might be permitted to resume worship in the Temple. The price of her purification was “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” one for a burnt offering the other for a sin offering. (For the wealthier the offerings were to be a yearling sheep or goat for the burnt offering and a dove or pigeon for the sin offering)
Mary’s turtle doves were sacrificed –one for a sin offering, another for a burnt offering for atonement, Mary was sprinkled with the blood of the dove sacrificed as a sin offering and declared clean from her Post-Partum bleeding, then the priest gave satisfaction to God on her behalf by offering the burnt offering of atonement,
Mary was cleansed and forgiven her sins. Notice the fact that the priest was the mediator between the woman and God, just as in the Sacrament of Reconciliation in the Roman church today, he also took responsibility for atoning for Mary’s sins, something Jesus will only need to do once and not every time a penitent comes to the Temple.
Why were these offerings so important, especially since there cannot be anything remotely sinful in conceiving and birthing a baby, especially this baby? For those of the old Covenant they were to teach that sin must be dealt with. Any uncleanliness; and issues of blood were unclean and therefore sinful, demanded separation from God. The only way that fellowship with God could be restored was through the death of an innocent substitute. Hence, in Mary’s case the Turtle Doves. Remember Paul has said that Jesus was born of a woman under the Law and subject to the Ordinances of God.
Third and finally was the Ordinance of Redemption of the first-born: - the redemption of the first-born echoes the Exodus when the first-born of Israel where redeemed from the Angel of Death by the blood of innocent lambs and kids smeared on the lintels and doorposts of their houses.
The Lord said “For all the first-born among the children of Israel are Mine, both man and beast; on the day that I smote all the first-born in the land of Egypt I sanctified them for Myself.” (Numbers 8:17 A Hebrew - English Bible, According to the Masoretic Text, and the JPS 1917 Edition)
The pre-figuring of that perfect Lamb of God who would take away our sins and redeem us from death. Again fellowship restored through the death of an innocent, this time ‘Son’.
“16 And their redemption-money--from a month old shalt thou redeem them--shall be, according to thy valuation, five shekels of silver, after the shekel of the sanctuary--the same is twenty gerahs.”(Numbers 18:16) Thus the child Jesus was held high above the altar, the ransom paid and then returned to his mother.
Note this practise continues to day and is referred to as pidyon haben, also called by some, "pig ina ben" - un-kosher as it may sound!
Simeon was a Prophet with the seal of the Holy Spirit resting upon him which Spirit had promised him that he would not see death until he had seen his Lord’s Messiah coming into the Temple.
Somewhere amid these proceedings, the holy Spirit drew, Simeon into the temple to announce the beginning of the fulfilment of the prophecy of Malachi who had said “3 See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight—indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:1, NRSV)
This baby with his family who had just fulfilled the first three Ordinances of the Lord, for his lifetime, now becomes the centre of an amazing prophecy. His parents are told that their baby is to be the salvation of the entire world, to grow up in plain sight, being prepared by God to shine the light of revelation on the Gentiles and to glorify God’s people Israel.’ But Simeon doesn’t say how!
You have kept your promise, Lord I can die in peace.
What Simeon then says to Mary and Joseph is enigmatic and puzzling, that despite being the glorious awaited one that he is, his ministry will be opposed, it will cause division and turn society upside down – and that a sword will pierce her own soul too.
This is the fate of the law abider!
The second witness, for there must always be more than one -Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher who at 84, hardly left the Temple spending her time in fasting and praying breaks in upon the scene and joyfully pronounces the child the Redeemer, he who had just been ransomed as Ransomer.
The family leave quietly after all is done to settle in Nazareth where we presume they continue to live quiet usual lives of people of their class in that time, coming and going to the Temple at the appointed times and rendering to God according to his sacred Ordinances. It is not until Jesus is just short of his 13th birthday that we meet him again in the Temple, presumably for what passed for Bar mitzvah in the first century CE.[( Celebration of Bar mitzvah goes back only to the middle ages at the earliest) Research informed me that we know Jesus was had just turned 13 since it was not possible for him to access conversation with the Scribes until the age of 13]
When we hear him say “did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
(Luke 2:39 NRSV) we must realize that he begins to know himself to be son of Mary and son of God, but continues the quiet preparation until he walks out of the desert and down to the Jordan.