01 February 2019

To Redeem and Purify You for Life with God

Here now, on the Eve of the Fortieth Day of Christmas, the Holy Scriptures have brought us again to the Temple of the Lord in order to receive and worship the Christ Child in His Body of flesh and blood.  Everything unfolds exactly as the Lord has spoken, according to His Word and under the guidance of His Holy Spirit.  For these events belong to the fulfillment of His promises of old.

Though not readily apparent, St. Luke has actually recorded the keeping of two specific Laws from the Old Testament, one concerning St. Mary and her purification after giving birth to her firstborn Son, and the other concerning that same Son, Jesus Christ, who is here called holy to the Lord.

It may seem odd that St. Mary, the blessed Virgin chosen by God, should need to be purified for giving birth to the Lord, conceived in her by the Holy Spirit.  Of course the Holy Family keeps the Law received from God through Moses, according to the custom.  But there’s more to it than that.  For this Law, in particular, concerning the purification of a woman after childbirth, now finds its goal and its fulfillment in this Mother who has given birth to this Son.

It goes back to that first promise of the Gospel in the Garden of Eden, following the Fall into sin, that the Seed of the Woman would crush the head of the serpent.  You know that St. Mary is that Woman, and Christ Jesus, her Son, is that Seed who treads Satan, sin, and death beneath His feet.

At the same time, along with the promise of the Gospel, there was also the curse and consequence of sin, that Eve and her daughters would suffer pain in the bringing forth of children.  Hence, both the curse and the promise are met together in the conceiving and bearing of daughter and sons.

In the light of God’s Word, notwithstanding the burdens and hardships of sin and death, it was the case that every son born of a woman — to Adam and Eve, to Abraham and Sarah, to the family of Isaac, Israel, and Judah, to the house and lineage of David, as the promise became more focused — every son born of a woman might be the Messiah, and every daughter might be the mother of the Messiah.  Until, finally, there is this Woman who gives birth to this Son who is the Messiah, whose body and life shall be given into death for the redemption of all, and whose holy, precious blood will be shed upon the Cross for the Atonement of the sins of the whole world.

That is what the requisite offering for the purification of a new mother signified.  It was for the atonement of her sins and the sanctification of her body and life, in view of the hope and promise of the Gospel.  And all of those sacrifices pointed to the One who has now come, the Child Jesus.

So there is also the Law concerning Him, which is here fulfilled, as well.  For every firstborn son who opened the womb was to be “called holy to the Lord.”  This Law went back to the Exodus from Egypt; and, along with that, it also recalled the case of Abraham and his beloved son, Isaac.

You know that earlier story, when God came to Abraham and told him to take his son, his only son, Isaac, whom he loved, and to sacrifice him as a whole burnt offering to the Lord on the mountain.  Abraham proceeded in faith to do as he was commanded, painful though it was to comprehend.  But at the very last moment, his hand poised in the air with the knife, ready to slay his son as a sacrifice, God stayed his hand and provided the Ram, caught in a thicket, in the place of Isaac.

So, likewise, in the Exodus from Egypt, when the Angel of the Lord passed through Egypt and struck down all the firstborn sons of man and beast, the sons of Israel were spared because God provided a lamb in their place: The Passover Lamb, sacrificed at twilight, prepared according to the Word of the Lord, the blood of the lamb marking the door, the flesh of the lamb being eaten.  Where the Lord beheld that blood, He passed over, and He spared the sons in those houses.  So it was that all of those firstborn sons belonged to the Lord.  And so were they called holy to the Lord.

Now, to be sure, all of Israel belonged to the Lord.  Indeed, the whole of creation belongs to the Lord.  But the firstborn sons, in particular, were spared and redeemed by the Lord through His giving of that lamb in their place.  So every firstborn son, precisely in this way, belonged to God.

The way God worked that out was by taking the entire tribe of Levi to be His special servants.  The Levites would serve in His presence, assisting the sons of Aaron (also from the tribe of Levi) in caring for the Tabernacle (later the Temple).  For this sacred service the entire tribe of Levi was dedicated, consecrated to the Lord.  By contrast, all of the other firstborn sons, from all of the other tribes, were redeemed for the price of five silver shekels, rather than being given over to serve.

This is the Law that God established for the firstborn sons of Israel, which Mary and Joseph came to fulfill in the Temple on this day.  Notably, though, St. Luke does not speak of redemption.  The Lord Jesus is not from the tribe of Levi, and we may assume that Mary and Joseph brought the five silver shekels that were specified as the price of His redemption.  But that is not what St. Luke describes.  Instead, he indicates that the Child Jesus was presented to the Lord, almost as a Levite would have been — in the way that Samuel (a Levite) was dedicated to the service of the Lord.

Of course it is true that Jesus belongs to the Lord, for He is the almighty and eternal Son of God, begotten of the Father from all eternity.  But here now, in the substance of human flesh and blood just like your own, He is presented and dedicated to the Lord on your behalf.  He is given in your place, in the place of all the sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.  His entire body and life are given up to God, to live and die for you and all people.  He is not redeemed from sacrifice and service; He redeems you by His sacrifice and service.  He is the Ram and the Passover Lamb given for you.

Now then, what the Law actually required for the purification of a woman after childbirth was not two young birds, be they turtledoves or pigeons, but actually one bird and a lamb.  But in the case of those who were poor, who could not afford a lamb, the Law made provision for a second bird in the place of the lamb.  So it is that St. Mary and St. Joseph here bring the offering of the poor, that is to say, two young birds, for the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mother of our Lord.

And yet, for all of that, this same Mother brings in her arms the One who is the Lamb, the true Passover, the Lamb of God who takes upon Himself and takes away the sins of the whole world.  She brings not just a couple birds but her own dear Son, and she presents Him to the Lord, that He should live and die as the Sacrifice of Atonement for Israel and all the nations; that He should redeem His people from their sins, and purify and cleanse them, by the shedding of His own Blood.

And He is the Atonement for all of your sins, as well.  For by the sacrifice of His flesh and blood, He has liberated you from Egypt and redeemed you from the bondage of sin, death, and hell.

And that is not all.  For He has become like you, not only to bear your sins, but to partake of blood and flesh like your own, that you might become like Him and partake of His divine nature in body and soul.  So has He bound Himself to you, and He traverses the wilderness right along with you.  His entire body and life are dedicated to God, and He lives that life in the flesh as the true Man, as the beloved and well-pleasing Son.  He is a Babe in arms, a Toddler, a little Boy, a Twelve-Year-Old, a Teenager, and a full-grown Man.  He lives the same human life that you are called to live in the flesh.  He lives by faith, He lives in love.  He lives unto God, that you might live in Him.

He traverses the wilderness with you, and He brings you into the Promised Land.  He brings you into the presence of God.  He brings you into the Holy of Holies made without hands, eternal in the heavens.  He is not only the Propitiation for your sins, but He is your merciful and great High Priest in all things pertaining to God.  By His sacrifice upon the Cross, and in His Resurrection and Ascension, He has not only entered the Temple of God, but His Body has become the true Temple, the divine, eternal Temple of God, that you might abide in the presence of God within His Body.

As He has given Himself into death for your sins, so has He been raised as your righteousness and holiness forever.  And He ever lives to make intercession for you — in the human flesh that He shares with you, and with the blood that He has shed for you.  As your own High Priest, not from the tribe of Levi, but according to the order of Melchizedek, forever and ever, He stands for you in the presence of God the Father, in the Holy Spirit, that you should be with Him where He is.

In the beautiful words that St. Paul has written, you have already died with Christ in your Holy Baptism, and so is your life hidden with Christ in God.  You are seated with Him in the heavenly places.  And here is the surety and guarantee, the sign and seal of that Life: As Christ is presented in the Temple in human flesh and blood like your own, presented to His God and Father on your behalf and in your place, so are you presented to His God and Father holy and blameless in Him, without flaw, without blemish, perfect in every way.  You are holy and righteous in the presence of God, you are beloved and well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, His Son, our Lord.

As He has partaken of your flesh and blood — as He has come in the fullness of time, the Seed of the Woman, the new and greater Adam, the Husband and Head of His Body and Bride — so are you here given to partake of His flesh and blood.  And as you feast upon these Fruits of His Cross, the Body and Blood of the Lamb, you have the Life of God in yourself, in your body and your soul.

And in this one Lord Jesus Christ, your merciful and great High Priest, you have Peace with God — at all times and in all place.  Peace even now, in this poor life of labor, as you go about your days in the world.  As you lay down at night and get up in the morning, as you go about your work, as you care for your family and serve your neighbor, you have Peace that surpasses all human understanding.  For you know that you are reconciled to God and acceptable in His sight.

And at the last, when the Lord shall call you from this vale of tears to Himself in heaven, you shall depart in Peace from this mortal life on earth, knowing that your death is but a slumber, and that, as your Savior Christ Jesus is risen from the dead, so shall you also rise and live with Him.

Then you shall see Him face to face with your own eyes, from your own body of flesh and blood.  Then you shall behold Him, no less than Simeon did, but even more clearly, the One who is the Glory of Israel, the One who is your Light, your Life, and your Salvation, who sanctifies you with His own holiness and glorifies you in both body and soul with His own righteousness forever.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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