The First Sunday after Christmas (12/27/2020)

Ps. 111; Isa. 61:10—62:3; Gal. 4:4-7; Luke 2:22-40.

*(blue paragraphs at bottom: Bible Study [apology for a transpose of English alphabet to imitate Greek font]).

Present, And when the time came for her [“autes-fem. sg.”] purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him [“auton-masc. sg.”] 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, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons” (vv. 22-24).

St. Luke pairs Mary’s postpartum purification with Jesus’ consecration. St. Paul comments, “God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law …” (Gal. 4:4, 5).

Forty days after Jesus’ birth, Mary sacrificed two birds (Lev. 12:1-4, 6-8), for a “burnt” and a “sin” offering to effect her ritual “holiness” for re-incorporation into Israel’s worship life. Mary’s purification occurred at the time of Jesus’ Presentation to the Lord.

The two events, purification and consecration, were coordinate in time and place, but independent religious rites in manner and purpose. Nevertheless, at this moment of salvation history, we depart OT legalities. Mary’s birth-purity, on the occasion of Jesus’ Dedication is crucial to the church’s Christmas celebration (Isa. 61:10, 62:2b, 3).

Under the law, Jesus was consecrated Redeemer, that the church would no longer be “legally” impure in its issue of new life in the new creation. By today’s Gospel, Mary’s restoration to OT “purity” projects the promise of NT Baptism’s sanctification in her crucified “Firstborn”.

This Christmas, St. Luke references OT strictures, as they inform us of Jesus’ incarnation, birth, circumcision, and presentation: God called “Israel out of Egypt” commanding, “Consecrate to me … All the firstborn … males shall be the LORD’s Every firstborn… among your sons you shall redeem …” (Ex. 13:2a, 12, 13, 15b, 16).

The price for redemption was a sacrificial lamb (13:2a, 12, 13) or five Sanctuary silver shekels (Num. 18:16). Absent this payment, Jesus belonged to God; the singular Lamb, for whom the Father would accept no substitute. At his Presentation, Jesus was ordained God’s sacrifice for the sin of the world.

On Dedication, Jesus legally entered the duties of God’s sonship, to which ancient Israel had been called (Ex. 9:1) but failed. Jesus’ binding on the cross, fulfilled Abraham’s prophesy, “the Lord will provide” his own required Sacrifice (Gen. 22:14). After Jesus’ circumcision, dedication, cross, and resurrection, he was God’s new Adam in and for the new creation.

In her restored purity Mary offered God the only unredeemable “firstborn son”; as if saying, “Behold, [Your] Lamb, who takes away the sin of the world” (cf. Jn. 1:29, 36). Mary’s presentation of Jesus to his Father compares with Abraham’s reckoned righteousness by faith in offering beloved Isaac.

The church celebrates Christmas as her own new birth in Christ. We are “begotten” by God’s only Son and “birthed” of his church. Jesus’ self-donation at the cross is the occasion of our baptismal and eucharistic participation in Christ. At the cross Jesus completed what Mary began, fully “presenting” himself to God in water, blood, and Spirit (Jn. 19:30) for redemption of the world and purification of his church.

Christmas midnight we reflected on Christ come into the world, Ensign of our new allegiance; one either continues governed by rebellious flesh, in conspiracy with rulers and demonic powers; or in Baptism, we enter Jesus’ death; die to sin, and renounce “ungodliness and worldly passion” (Titus 2:12). If the latter, there is true Christmas celebration, knowing that in a new begetting, God’s glory is our glory.

By God handing Zion, the church, to Jesus, as with “the woman” to Adam, we receive from the Lord a “new name” (Isa. 62:2b), now gazed on through his “redemptive” wounds; to be a “beautiful crown … a royal diadem in the palm of your God” (v. 3). Amen.


Bible Study:

*(Modern translations of Lk. 2:22 employ a plural pronoun for the two OT rites [“their”-“autwn”] [following NA-27, 28: RSV, JB, NJB, NAB, ESV] obscuring gospel import [NIV is most problematic]; rather than sg. pronouns: [“her purification/his presentation”], DOUAY-RHEIMS (Vulgate), KJV, NKJV (Textus Receptus); Apostolic Polyglot).

*(That Jesus is Mary’s “firstborn son” (Lk. 2:7) implies nothing of whether she had other children; rather, it is a theological statement about Jesus to his Father according to Exodus regulations—having nothing to do with Mary’s future marital relations. Those whose piety holds Mary “semper virgo” might consider; if Mary in the Resurrection (and before) is picture of the NT church; do her (the church’s) many children by Baptism inform?).

*(At his temple presentation Jesus was God’s redemption price for all whom he calls “sons and daughters”; is there some sense in which such new creation procreation informs Jesus as “Everlasting Father” Isa. 9:6c?).

*(Other than Joseph’s and Mary’s presumed modest means, is there a theological reason why St. Luke might have specified the alternative, two bird-sacrifice, rather than a year-old lamb and a pigeon for Mary’s purification, Lev. 12:6—perhaps to avoid conflating and confusing the two rites?) pm.