Holy to the Lord
Text: Luke 2:22-40
The Presentation of Our Lord
When the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him 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 [22-24]
It is sometimes from the seemingly smallest and most insignificant scenes in the life of a person that some of the greatest and life-altering truths can be found. The road not chosen, the invitation accepted, that little mistake that changed everything, those words that linger even still. How many times have you been witness to monumental events in the world, or even your life and not even known it until much later? Small things can be full of life-altering truths. The beginnings of Jesus' life are no different, except maybe that the life such scenes tend to alter is not His (for living through it) as our own (for being privy to it).
Consider, for example, the day when Mary took her young infant son up to the temple for the very routine purpose of making sacrifices for herself and little Jesus. Exactly forty days after the miracle child's birth, the Law demanded a small thing. Five shekels to buy back the first-born son, and a sacrifice to purify the mother. It was something mothers and newborns had been doing for centuries. It was something that took place every single day in the temple – several times a day.
According to the Law of Moses, found in Leviticus chapter 12, following childbirth the mother was to present herself before the Lord and make an offering of a lamb 1 year old, for a burnt offering and a pigeon for a sin offering. If however, the woman's family was poor a lesser substitution of two pigeons was acceptable. The sacrifices served as a perpetual reminder that any spilling of blood made a person unclean. And life, even the good moments, can sometimes be a pretty bloody affair. Those who were unclean were ritually separated from the worship life, excluded from the greater community … until that uncleanliness could be atoned for.
Further, the price of the five shekels served as a reminder to the people of God that all life belonged to God. It was He that gave it, He that delivered it up out of Egypt, by striking down Pharaoh with the dreaded ten plagues. Plagues that ended with the death of the firstborn of all those opposed to God. In that sense then, all firstborn males were to be seen as God's own sons. Their lives were to be devoted wholly to the Lord. Unless, of course, they were redeemed from such service (by the redemption price) and someone else lived before God in their stead. This was the historic role of the Levites. They served, as a whole tribe, in the place of all Israel's first-born sons.
And so new mothers and their 40 day-old sons had been offering these sacrifices every single day of every single year ever since the Exodus, to connect themselves again with the history of Israel and promises of God. They fulfilled these obligations in order to remain a part of that covenant community, that family of God.
And yet look at the deeper truth being played out in this every-day scene. For the mother is no ordinary mother. And this firstborn Son truly does belong to God Himself – for He IS God Himself! Holy to the Lord! And even though the price is paid, and the sacrifices made, it is telling to note that no lamb is offered up for the cleansing of His mother's blood. For this child Himself is that Lamb. His life cannot be bought back from God. His life will be wholly devoted to the Lord. He Himself will be the sacrifice that buys back firstborn Israel once and for all time.
In the impending Passover death of this precious Lamb of God, and His subsequent resurrection, death will be forever passed over. His blood will write a new covenant with God's people; marking their homes so that sin, death, and the devil will never have a fixed place within again!
In the life of this true Son of Israel, this "One who is Holy to the Lord", God's people will finally be brought out of the wilderness of sin and doubt, and delivered safely through the waters of Baptism into the awaiting promised land. In His precious life given on that cross, God's people are restored to His family, brought back into the community of heaven.
And the means? The seemingly smallest and most insignificant of things … the Words of ancient book, a bit of water, some bread and wine. Things so easily and readily overlooked by the world around us. So ordinary that they are quite literally the stuff of everyday life. Yet in these commonplace elements are still found the deepest and most profoundly life-changing truths. For in them are found Jesus Himself. Jesus for you. And in them – through Him – you too become One who is Holy to the Lord.
As far as accounts of Biblical proportions go today's reading certainly doesn't look like much. Just a mother and her baby, fulfilling their routine obligations. But That Mother and That Baby are doing it not just for themselves, they are doing it for you and me, that we too might be Holy to the Lord! This shedding of this Son's blood will make people clean, and bring life even from death. This Lamb will restore His people to the family of God and the community of heaven. The truth revealed here is enough to change lives forever. It did for Simeon. It did for Anna. It does for you and me and all who await that consolation from the Lord. For we too have now seen the salvation from God prepared before the face of all people. That light which lightens the Gentiles and the glory of God's chosen people Israel.