Presentation not redemption – 29th December – Fifth day in the octave of Christmas – Luke 2: 22-35

Presentation not redemption – 29th December – Fifth day in the octave of Christmas – Luke 2: 22-35

The story of Jesus’ presentation in Jerusalem is one of the few stories in the canonical Gospels that have to do with Jesus’ childhood. The scarcity of information about Jesus’ childhood reminds us that the Gospels are not biographies, or at least not primarily that. They are kerygmatic narratives — they seek to proclaim the gospel and to undergird and strengthen faith in Christ.

According to Leviticus 12, after a woman gives birth to a son, she is impure for forty days. At the end of that period, she is to bring an offering to the temple, which the priest offers as a sacrifice, effecting her purification. In addition, Exodus 13:2, 12, 15 state that every first-born male (which “opens the womb”), whether human or animal, “belongs” to the Lord (cf. 34:20). While (clean) animals (Leviticus 27:27) would be sacrificed, first-born sons needed to be redeemed (Exodus 13:12-15).

According to Numbers 3:46-51, the redemption involved the payment of five shekels to the priesthood. However, according to another tradition in Numbers 3:11-13; 8:16-18, the tribe of the Levites takes the place of the first-born sons of Israel as the Lord’s possession. Thus, the biblical notion of redemption included the idea that the first-born son “belongs” to the Lord in a special way and is dedicated to serve him (as the Levites were also dedicated to serve him).

Mary and Joseph come to present Jesus in the temple. The parents of Jesus were fulfilling the Law, dedicating their son to God. There was, however, an important difference. They did not ‘redeem’ their son, as the law laid down, they ‘presented’ him to God.  

At the Presentation in the Temple, Mary and Joseph made the offering of the poor; two pigeons instead of the lamb which was the offering of the better-off. It is here that they meet Simeon and Anna. Simeon is one of the ‘quiet in the Land’, Jews who awaited God’s coming to his people in a spirit of prayer and quiet watchfulness, rather than the expectation of a triumphant warlord.

Simeon, who was righteous and devout man came into the Temple, guided by the Spirit. It had been revealed to him by the Spirit that he would see the Lord’s Messiah before his death. He was an old man but one who looked forward to a new era. Attuned to the Holy Spirit, he identifies Jesus from the many children who came up to Jerusalem. Simeon took the child in his arms and praised God. Simeon sings his song of farewell after a lifetime of watching for the sign of God salvation.  All his dreams were now fulfilled and as a servant he was content to go in peace.

Today’s reading reminds us that there is more to share about the birth and purpose of Jesus in the world than simply the nativity scene. Up to this point, the narrative expectation was focused on the birth moments of Jesus and John the Baptist. With Simeon and Anna, the object of expectancy shifts to what Jesus will do. In the words of Simeon to Mary, Jesus is “destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed” (Luke 2:34).

Simeon recognised Jesus as ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles,’ and so for us. We in turn are to be a light for revelation to all those who have not yet accepted Jesus as the light of their lives.

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