Today the Christian church celebrates the Presentation of Jesus. This was the day when Mary and Joseph came to the Temple to offer the sacrifices that the Mosaic law required for a woman who had given birth, and to dedicate Jesus to the Lord as the firstborn. This festival isn’t always celebrated in most churches, but it still is worth noting and pondering. A few things to think about:
+ Jesus had parents who kept the Law. They followed God’s commands and undoubtedly taught Him to do the same. All Christian parents can take encouragement and comfort from the fact that Jesus has sanctified what they do, even if it seems mundane or a burden at times. Chores like laundry or telling your child yet again to stop throwing food on the floor, etc, are actually service to God, because we are made holy through faith in Jesus’ work, and thus the fruits of faith that we bear are holy as well.
+ Jesus was Mary and Joseph’s firstborn son. St. Paul calls Him the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29). The firstborn was holy to the Lord under the Law of Moses. God did this to strengthen our faith in His Son when He appeared. The writer to the Hebrews, in a very comforting passage, says that Jesus is of the same family as us (Heb 2.10-18). He’s our big brother, in a very real sense. (That whole chapter of Hebrews, and you could say the whole book of Hebrews, is very comforting that way.) St. Paul also calls Him the firstfruits from among the dead, in a similar picture (I Cor 15.20). Jesus’ being the firstborn, and the significance of the firstborn in the Old Testament, are part of why this festival is important (and why the Church still celebrates it.)
+ This occurrence from Jesus’ life fulfills a prophecy given through the prophet Malachi: “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the LORD, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts” (3.1). Jesus would come to the Temple at other times, but this was the first time, and Simeon’s reaction marks this auspicious event.
+ Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimittis (from its first words in Latin) has found two very fitting uses in the liturgy: 1) after Holy Communion, where we receive Jesus’ body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. This is where we see the Lord’s promises to us come true. 2) in Compline, the last office of the Daily Office. This was the last set period of prayer for the monks in the monasteries. They would sing or pray Simeon’s song privately as their own confession of faith — very similar to the way many of us learned “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; if I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take.” Simeon’s song, in spirit and in content, is a believer’s identical prayer.
+ Many older calendars note this as “the Presentation of Jesus and the Purification of Mary”, or just “the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” This is probably a reflection of excessive honor due to Mary, a tendency which crept into the Church over time, but it’s just a reference to her being ritually purified under the Law of Moses. Nothing more than that. Mary is purified from sin the same way we all are — through faith in her Son. Many in the church in the past believed that when the Son took on human flesh from Mary in His incarnation, the Holy Spirit sanctified that flesh and drove all stain of sin out of it before Christ began to dwell in it. That seems to make sense, but no word of Scripture establishes it. It’s a pious opinion that seems likely, but we’re not bound to it without anything in Scripture to nail it down for us.
+ Another name for this day is Candlemas, after the medieval custom of blessing all the candles that a parish would use in the coming year on this day. I haven’t found out why this was connected to the presentation of Jesus at the Temple, but if I find out, I’ll let you know.
You can read about the Presentation of Jesus in Luke 2:22-40.