Sunday

28 December 2014

“They offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, ‘a pair of turtle-doves or two young pigeons.” (v. 24)

Psalm: Psalm 148


Background

The two Gospels that treat of Jesus' infancy do so in very different ways. Luke's Gospel does not tell us of the visit of the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12), the flight into Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15), or the massacre of the infants (Matthew 2:16-18). Instead, it maintains the focus on a family that was dutiful in religious observance: immediately prior to this story he notes that Jesus was named and circumcised (Luke 2:21); the last of his stories of Jesus' childhood recounts that the family journeyed each year to Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52).

The practice of redeeming the first born is an echo of the Exodus story; part of the perpetual thanksgiving of Israel for their freedom from slavery (on the night that the firstborn of Egypt were slain) was to offer and then to buy back each first born son (Exodus 13:11-16). Luke's Gospel presents this ritual as being merged with another - the purification of the mother after childbirth: according to Leviticus a woman was to make a sacrifice at the end of "the days of her purification" (Leviticus 12:4). Which of these demanded the sacrifice of two pigeons is not clear - whilst the Torah prescribed a lamb for each offering, this smaller gift may either suggest that Joseph and Mary were not rich or that the custom had been simplified over the centuries and made less expensive.

What Luke's Gospel records here is a ritual act that continues a tradition: this is what God's people have done for centuries. But Luke is clear that this is no ordinary child and therefore this is no ordinary family event. Both Anna and Simeon are prompted by the Holy Spirit to proclaim that this child is one who has been promised to restore God's people. In this episode, not only is the law (the Covenant relationship between God and God's people) observed; the law is fulfilled.


To Ponder

  • Anna and Simeon were both of a venerable age but spoke with hope about the future. How do we value the wisdom and fidelity of older people in the Church today?
  • Women (mercifully) are no longer 'churched' after childbirth. But what are the rituals that enable us to be thankful when there is an addition to the family?
  • Throughout the first two chapters of this Gospel the temple is a place of worship and of expectation. In what ways does the worship that you experience (or perhaps lead) express an expectation that God is going to do great things?


Bible notes author: 
The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler 

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