Monday, February 2, 2009

Feast of the Purification of Mary and Presentation of Jesus In The Temple

According to the Law of Moses, every first born male child is to be brought to the Temple and offered to the LORD. Forty days after the birth of Jesus, at the time specified, Mary and Joseph brought him up to Jerusalem, and the offered the sacrifice which is prescribed in the Law.

In the Temple on that day was a man named Simeon, a righteous and devout man, who looked forward to the redemption of Israel; and the Holy Spirit rested upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would see the Messiah before he died. Guided by the Holy Spirit, he came into the Temple, and when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to do what was prescribed by the Law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

Now, Lord, you may dismiss your servant in peace,
According to your word;
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
Which you have prepared for all peoples,
A light of revelation to the Gentiles,
And the glory of your people, Israel.

Mary and Joseph were amazed at what was being said about the child. Then Simeon blessed him, and said to his mother, “This child is destined to bring about the fall and the rise of many in Israel. He will be a sign that is opposed, and the inner thoughts of many will be revealed. – And a sword will pierce your heart.

Three times, the Law of Moses is mentioned in this reading. Everything is being done in obedience to the Law. What else is mentioned three times in this reading? The Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit as identified in the Hebrew Scriptures. It will not become clear that the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity until that is revealed in the New Testament: The Father’s love begets the Son; the Son returns the Father’s love; from the love between the Father and the Son proceeds the Holy Spirit.

There are some who say that the Holy Spirit of the New Testament releases God’s people of the shackles of obedience to the Law. That is untrue. The shackles which are unbound are those of obedience based on fear of punishment meted out according to the Law. Jesus obeys the Law because he loves the Father who inspired the writing of the Torah; and he obeys the Law because he loves the people for whom the Law of Moses was written, and whose redemption depends upon his obedience to that law.

From the moment of his birth, Jesus appears in the gospels as subject to the Law of Moses. Seven days after his birth, he is circumcised. Thirty-three days after that he is brought to the Temple to be presented to the LORD, as required in the Law of Moses of the first born male child. He is fully identified with God’s people, or as one commentator with a great deal of hindsight put it, “completely immersed in humanity.” Well, if there is hindsight, can you see this child as a grown man put to death in accordance with that same Law of Moses: “He has blasphemed”, Caiaphas said to Pilate, “and therefore he must die.” Caiaphas did what he believed was right, as an administrator of the law. Jesus accepted death, even death on the Cross, in obedience to the Law, an obedience not grounded in fear of being punished for disobedience, but an obedience born of love: love for the Father who sent Him; love for the people who are redeemed by his sacrifice.

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