Happy Groundhog Day?
You know today is Groundhog Day. You probably don't know it started in 16th century Germany and the animal was a badger not a ground hog. When German immigrants settled in 19th century Pennsylvania they had no badgers but plenty of ground hogs. You might also not know that over a 60 year period Punxsutawney Phil has been right only 28% of the time, about the same as modern weathermen (Extraordinary Origins, 50). 10 to 15,000 people go out on this day to see what Phil sees or doesn't see. We come here on Groundhog Day to see something else.
We come here to see the Purification of Mary. According to the Law of Moses, a mother having given birth is ceremonially unclean for 7 days after the birth of a son and must remain separated from the Temple worship for another 33 days. These 40 days mentioned in Leviticus 12 were the days of her purification. At the end of this, she went up to Jerusalem an offered a thank offering and a sin offering for her purification. From what Mary offered, either 2 doves or pigeons, we know the family was poor since otherwise they would have offered a lamb and one dove or pigeon.
The 1941 Lutheran Hymnal celebrates today as the Presentation of Our Lord and The Purification of Mary. The 1982 Lutheran Worship dropped the Purification of Mary altogether and the 2006 Lutheran Service Book put the emphasis on the Purification by calling today The Purification of Mary and the Presentation of Our Lord.
The Presentation of our Lord is an ancient Holy Day dating to Jerusalem in the 300s. The earliest name for it was "Meeting" referring to Simeon meeting Baby Jesus. The emphasis of this holiday was on Jesus and His presentation not on Mary and her purification. You can guess what happened. After the 9th century increasing devotion to Mary established the day as The Purification of Mary. Lutherans and Anglicans still celebrate this feast day but as a festival of Christ not Mary (Reed, 50). The holy family didn't have to do the Presentation the same day as Purification; they did it probably to save time and money.
We come here to see the Purification of Mary but even more so to see the Presentation of our Lord. This too was Old Testament law. All the firstborn both of animal and man belonged to the Lord. Either they were dedicated to His service, as the whole tribe of Levi was, ransomed by paying money to the Temple, or sacrificed to the Lord if it was a clean animal.
This Old Testament Law was rooted in the Passover. You'll recall that at Passover the Lord passed over the houses of the Israelites with the blood of a lamb painted on their door posts, but He killed every firstborn of man and animal in Egyptian households. When the Tabernacle was set up, God took the Levites for service instead of all the firstborn of Israel. The presentation of the firstborn male recognized God's passing over the firstborn in salvation, His ownership of them, and right to their service.
So we come here to see not a ground hog but the Purification of Mary and the Presentation of our Lord because both of these reveal in a stark way facts about Jesus worthy of not only knowing but worshiping, so while the emphasis is on Jesus being presented, Mary being purified also says something important about Jesus.
Catholicism making the emphasis of this holiday on the Purification of Mary is inconsistent with their later teaching that Mary was conceived without sin. Why? Because how could a "holy" Mary be defiled by the birth of the Holy Jesus? Still even with Mary being the sinner she was, how did birthing a holy Child defile her? You can't get your head around this so don't even try. Jesus' birth was so ordinary, so human that even though He was God in flesh and blood He still rendered her unclean ceremonially before God.
The reason childbirth defiled women before God, and giving birth to a girl defiled her for twice as long, was because by giving birth she was perpetuating not just life but sinful life which was in rebellion against God. The reason a girl made her unclean for twice as long was because women are the fount of life. Adam named his wife Eve because she was the mother of all the living. Through women is the only way that God perpetuates life and because that life is now sinful when women bring a girl into the world she brings even more fallen life.
Jesus' birth was so real, so in our place, so with our sin that Mary suffered, cried, and bled to give birth as all women since the Fall do. Jesus wasn't born with a halo; He didn't pass through the walls of the womb as Catholics and even some Lutherans believe. No, Exodus 13:2 says that "Whatever opens the womb among the children of Israel of both man and beast is Mine." Jesus opened Mary's womb, so she had to be purified, and as a firstborn Jesus had to be presented.
Maybe it's because the Presentation presents problems that the Purification was emphasized? The Law said that all firstborn unclean animals that couldn't be sacrificed and all firstborn males had to be ransomed by paying 5 shekels, but we don't read that Mary and Joseph did that. In fact, I think our text specifically says Simeon interrupted them from doing just that. "When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took Him in his arms." Simeon didn't ask, and Mary didn't give. They were about to do what the Law required and Simeon stopped them and then shocked them with the words we know as the Nunc Dimittis and by telling them because of Jesus many would fall in unbelief and rise in faith while Mary's soul would be pierced.
The Law in Numbers 3: 46-47 says if a child was not given in service to the Lord the parents needed to redeem him by paying money. They didn't because Jesus was dedicated to the service of the Lord, and since firstborn clean animals were not redeemed but sacrificed this pointed to the clean Jesus being sacrificed. So Jesus was presented here for a life of service and sacrifice. By revelation of the Holy Spirit Simeon knew that and now so do you.
Jesus was presented for a life of service under the Law. The Law that pains, pinches, and convicts you, the Law that exposes your sins, your failings, your uncleanness, Jesus willingly took on Himself as a Man. The Law that you try to make doable, keep-able, excusable, because if you don't it means you deserve to be punished now and forever was kept by Jesus in your place. When the Law presents you with a list of demands that you must do before you can consider yourself a Christian, forgiven, or saved, you present Jesus as the One who kept the Law in your place.
But Jesus keeping the Law perfectly sure wouldn't pierce Mary's soul with a sword. No, but He was presented not just as a perfect Man but as a holy Lamb to be slaughtered. Note Simeon says Mary's soul will be pierced too that meant Jesus' would be as well. Simeon holds not even a six week old baby and tells His mother a sword is going to pierce His soul. We see that in Gethsemane where Jesus says," My soul is overwhelmed to the point of death." We see that on the cross when He asks God from the depths of hell, "Why have you forsaken Me?"
I'll tell you why, so God wouldn't have to forsake you, so God wouldn't have to pierce your soul with eternal damnation. Jesus is presented for a life of sorrowing, suffering, bleeding and dying in order to pay for, to cover up, to carry away, to forgive every sin, every wrong, every failing, everything you, the Devil, or others accuse you of being guilty of. You are not to leave here today with one sin on your soul, one guilt on your conscience, one stain on your heart or hand. If you do, you are saying Jesus didn't really get the job done on the cross. He didn't really finish it. And that's a lie. And it would be an utter shame if you believed it.
I think I can make this point with even more force using the Collect for today. It's unique to find a Collect saying something happens by Jesus rather than through Him. But this Collect prays "so by Him we may be presented to You." Both our Lutheran Hymnal and the 1982 Lutheran Worship have it this way. The 2006 Lutheran Service Book doesn't. That's because it goes back to the circa 7th century Collect. The other two hymnals go with the 1662 revised Collect. Changing through to by adds a new idea. It links our final presentation by Christ with His Presentation in the Temple (Reed, 554).
It's fitting because our text calls Jesus the Consolation of God's people. It calls Him God's salvation, a Light of revelation and redemption. I find it enlightening, redeeming, revealing, consoling that my presentation on the Last Day is linked to Jesus' presentation today. Besides, I find it Biblical. Ephesians 5:27 says Jesus presents the Church as radiant "without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish but holy and blameless." Colossians 1:22 says Christ presents you holy without blemish and free from accusation. Jude 24 says Jesus is able to present you without fault and with great joy.
Have you ever been ashamed to introduce someone? Worse have you ever felt the shame someone else was feeling at having to introduce you? The Presentation of our Lord means you won't feel that on the Last Day or need to feel it on any day. Yes, you are a miserable sinner; yes all your thoughts are sin; yes you daily sin much and deserve nothing but punishment as we say in the Catechism; yes you are a wretched person chained to a body of death that is putrefying before your eyes. But I Cor. 6:11 butts in with 3 Gospel notes; "But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of God."
Jesus is no more ashamed and no less proud to present you before God Almighty than Mary was Jesus in the Temple. Happy Presentation of our Lord and even happier presentation by your Lord! Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
The Presentation of our Lord & The Purification of Mary (20140202); Luke 2: 22-40