Advent 2017: Joy to the World: Day 25

Jesus Presented in the Temple

by

Today's Text: Luke 2:21-40, Leviticus 12:1-8

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:21-40, Leviticus 12:1-8

Babies’ lives follow a certain rhythm: eat, sleep, poop, cry. Repeat. For the infant Son of God and His mother Mary, life had likely fallen into a predictable routine, one similar to new moms today. But, in the days after she had given birth to Jesus, Mary had to submit to an older ritual that may not seem as familiar.

According to the Levitical law, after childbirth a woman was considered ceremonially unclean for one week followed by another thirty-three days of isolation—double if she’d given birth to a daughter. After that time had passed, parents were instructed to go to the temple and sacrifice a one-year old lamb, or, if they couldn’t afford one, two turtledoves or two young pigeons.

From our cultural standpoint, it’s hard to understand all this. The requirements seem arbitrary, confusing, and—when it comes to the post-childbirth stuff—definitely patriarchal. But if we can put down our modern-day objections for a moment, there’s something beautiful to witness in these few short verses.

Remember: Jewish life was full of custom, ritual, and symbolism. The rites existed to remind Israelites of one story over and over again: sin separates us from God, and the only thing that atones for our sin is the blood of a spotless sacrifice. Simply put, we are unclean until something clean bleeds on our behalf. So the customs may look unfamiliar to us, but their purpose is clear. Tradition urged the people of God to grapple with their broken relationship with God.

And so, following the Scripture, Mary and Joseph arrived at the temple with their baby boy and a sacrifice in hand. Luke tells us that they bought the cheaper sacrifice allowed by Leviticus: two doves or pigeons. I find it interesting that Mary and Joseph couldn’t afford a lamb, even as the baby in their arms would be the ultimate Lamb of God (John 1:29). But that’s beside the point. The main character in this passage isn’t Mary or Joseph. It’s not even Jesus. It’s Simeon.

When I first read this passage, I assumed Simeon was a priest. But after reading the passage a few times over, I realized that all we’re told about Simeon was that he was a “righteous and devout” man (Luke 2:25). A man! How encouraging is it that we don’t have to hold a position in the church or in the world to play a meaningful role for God? The only things we’re told about Simeon are the only ones that matter: he loved the Lord, and he knew God’s Word. He was a man who hoped and longed for Israel’s consolation and comfort. And on the right day, at the exact right time, Simeon felt nudged by the Holy Spirit to go up to the temple.

I wonder what he was expecting to find. I wonder if he felt excitement in his breast as he opened the door, the light pouring in on a couple and their infant son. What happened when he held Jesus and looked in His face? What did Simeon see in that little baby’s eyes?

He cried out as custom gave way to the Comforter.
He rejoiced as ritual met its match in the Redeemer.
He sang out, as every symbol found its perfect fulfillment in the Savior.

Simeon’s eyes had seen the Lord’s salvation face to face in the babe who was named Jesus. Through Him, God Himself has come near to be with us, to rescue and redeem and restore us.

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Claire Gibson is a freelance writer and editor whose work has been featured both locally and nationally in publications including The Washington Post, and Entrepreneur Magazine. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee. She loves her husband, Patrick, and their dog, Winnie.

  • I’m so glad Jesus came and changed it all! I often think of different eras that God didn’t place me in. He saw my best use in today’s generation. I also had always assumed Simeon was a priest, so glad to go through this study and see how God will use those He chooses to use. And to see His faithfulness to him shine through at the appointed time. Be sure knows what He’s doing! Praise God!

  • Betty Packer

    I struggle with this passage from Leviticus too – many passages in Leviticus, actually. But I remember reading in a study how this 30 day period of being “unclean” was actually a gift of rest to women who had given birth. They weren’t able to do their usual work of cleaning, cooking, etc, they didn’t have to meet the demands of their husband (if they were in a difficult marriage), they were with other women that would understand what they were going through with a new baby and could help…. So while the label “unclean” dismays me, to be honest, I know a loving God, and can see His hand reaching through the traditions and terminology of the time to give young moms a season of rest, healing, and adjustment.

  • Micah Lee

    Anna and Simeon are such wonderful examples of enduring faithfulness to God for the modern church as we wait for the second coming

  • Rescued, redeemed, and restored…lord may I not forget that my hope and redemption is in you. May I enter your temple expectantly.

  • Caralee Lilly

    So much hope is expressed here. Simeon and Anna had waited, believed and served in expectation of hope to be born. God had been silent 400 years… but He was working in that silence. I need to remember that as I look toward the day when Jesus reveals Himself to my children. I know it will not be 400 years. He who ha promised is faithful.

  • Anna Lubas

    I wanted to ask if any of you ladies know what the purification ritual was for? Why were women considered impure after giving birth? Just wondering :)

    • Liz Baker

      These days the women will go to the Mikva or communal baths to bath.

    • Angie

      I don’t know a lot about it, but it had to do with the blood during child birth. It wasn’t childbirth that made them unclean but the blood that was shed during the process. The same way they were considered unclean when they had their period. When studying passages like this it makes me even more grateful for the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. He truly changed everything in so many ways!

  • Barbara Thompson

    I

  • Eva Holsinger

    Hi, about the postpartum rules-worldwide this still happens far more than we in the West are aware of—in China, where we live and serve, a population of 1.3 billion have a thousands-year custom they still enforce that women stay in bed for the first 30 days after birth, don’t eat certain things, don’t shower or do anything with water or with cold. After 8 years here I still find it incredulous that young, educated modern Chinese women abide by the rules of the older women, but such is he power of culture and tradition. They often just accept it, don’t fight it, and view it perhaps as a way of people caring for them and doing things For them. We often interpret the Bible customs through our own cultural lens—ther is so much we don’t know or can’t relate to that women of that time may have perceived vey differently. Just some thoughts on alternatives to misogyny as the intended motive!

    • Jenni

      You are right! I never thought to compare the 2 traditions! I served in China for 2 years and I also found it hard to believe when friends followed this tradition.

  • Allison Joy

    This is from a “kids” CD, (GT and the Halo Express, Christmas one, if you’re wondering) but oh my goodness, I love this version and song based on Simeon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lep1l42CDT0

  • Carol Ames

    I have read this passage many times but after reading devotion today to go with it I have a different perspective on what happened with Simeon

  • Michelle S

    It stands out to me that Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit to go to the temple. It is my hope and prayer that I will be so focused on listening to the Holy Spirit that I don’t miss what God wants me to do. I’m still learning what His voice sounds like to me.

  • I was reading this aloud to my daughter and husband and had to stop reading at the part where Simeon first saw Mary, Joseph and the baby. I had the picture in my mind and it overwhelmed me. To wait for so long in hope and longing and to finally see the Messiah. Tears are still in my eyes. Thank-you for putting this in such a beautiful way.

  • Jennifer Anapol

    So amazing that God would choose to reveal himself to Simeon and Anna!

  • Courtney Cates

    It is very important we remember the other people involved with the story of Jesus who were witnesses to His coming and the rituals of the time period in which he lived.

  • Heather Gray

    I feel this wrestling too ladies! Especially because the instruction came straight from God. But then I’m reminded of the other portion of our Scripture today-about Anna…and how precious it is that not only did God allow a man-Simeon to meet the Savior of the world face to face at the temple that day, but also a woman, Anna the prophetess. I’ve been asking the Lord to reveal some understanding to me about the rather difficult statements in Leviticus today, but even if He doesn’t-I know that He places a high value on women and His daughters are precious to Him as seen many times in the Scripture as well! Some things we may not understand until we see Him face to face ourselves. :)

  • Crystal Mendez

    I look forward to the day when I can look Jesus in the eyes face to face! While we wait for that day, may we look for Him where we are today and every day.

  • Wow, I just put together that the “unclean” period allows women to rest as long as the modern standard – six weeks!

    But why would He double it for the birth of a female? Are females harder to give birth to? Do they need twice as much post-natal care? That’s all I can think of, and they both seem unlikely…

    • Kay

      We need a cultural anthropologist here! But my best guess is that members of the tribe would have been more willing to help with newborn males, less so with females, who were considered to be of less value. Mothers would have needed more time to care for newborn daughters personally, which means longer recuperation after a daughter was born. It sucks but that was their reality.

      • Jenni

        The only commentary I have access to at the moment says “This may be attributed to an ancient belief that the period of recovery for the mother was longer in the case of a female child than in the case of a male.” (Wycliffe Bible Commentary)

  • Efe Abbe

    The wonderful moment when God in the flesh was in the temple. While priests and levites, worshipers and sinners were all participants in centuries old rites for the temporary ‘cleansing’ of sins , The One who “was without sin” and “born under the law” was “fulfilling all the requirements of the law” “to free all who were under the law”. Glory be to God!

  • Valerie Wetlaufer

    Yeah, I’m not willing to dismiss the misogyny of Leviticus so easily.

    • Efe Abbe

      Hi Valerie and this is the wrestling that we as 21st century women will always have with the scriptures. Whim rereading the passage from Leviticus today, perhaps for the first time I noticed that the instructions for post-birth purification came from God himself. That was very hard to digest. I think it’s okay to be honest to wrestle with it with help from The Holy Spirit. Thanks for your honesty.

    • Jyllea

      Have you seen Kay’s comment below? The same idea she presents has been a comfort to me when I come across something that seems like misogyny. What do you think?

    • Kay

      A misogynistic, patriarchal society is one of the bald truths of human history. As long as we remember it and wrestle with it we will not be tempted to repeat it. When I read scriptures that support it, I always remind myself that men wrote down the scriptures, and the message of greatest importance is the Truth of Christ. Times change. As women it is part of our calling to keep the faith, remember the pain and injustice, and teach – lest we forget.

    • Kimberly

      Hi ladies, go back to Genesis chapter 3. The answers will be found there. It all goes back to the sin of the first women. Two verses to consider; verse 15 “I will put enmity between you (the serpent/Satan) and the woman and between your offspring and hers;” and verse 16b, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” It is a hard pill to swallow for 21st century women, but it is the Word of God. So what should our response be? I think, especially as women, we should first and foremost be thankful for Jesus who “takes away the sin of the world” and who will come again at the end of the age and usher in the new heavens and the new earth! And while we wait for that time, we understand that the Devil will always be stirring up “enmity” against women, so we remember Ephesians 6:12 – “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood (i.e. woman’s fight is not against men), but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” In my opinion, if 21st century Christian women really want to see women treated with respect globally or even in our own towns, it will happen when we come together humbly, on our knees, and enter into the spiritual battle through prayer. Ahh, ladies, when angst rises in our hearts on this issue, let Hebrews 12:2-3 come to mind and “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…”

    • Terri

      Galatians 3:28 There is no Jew or Greek slave or free, male or female for you are all one in Christ Jesus

    • Jenni

      In my master’s degree program I studied ancient near eastern culture and discovered that many things I thought were misogyny are actually a protection for women. We can keep struggling through these tough issues together :)

      • Kelley

        That’s quite an interesting and enlightening perspective. I’d love to hear some examples~ I am officially intrigued :)

  • I am struck by the thought that Mary and Joseph did indeed present the Lamb – the perfect, priceless Lamb that none of us can afford- perhaps not fully aware that they were presenting the perfect sacrifice as the ultimate offering!

    • Paige

      I love this! Although it appeared that they were offering the lesser sacrifice, they were really offering THE only sacrifice that is once and for all. Love the theme of humility woven throughout the gospel and the many paradoxes of less being more and last being first.

  • I love this one today. It shows us what OUR response to Jesus should be. Awe and wonder from the very beginning. Jesus, let me be in awe and wonder in your presence each and every day. Loving you today and always. Amen

  • Churchmouse

    Simeon “looked forward to Israel’s consolation.” That would be Jesus. I have Jesus and continue to daily look to Him as my Hope. And I look to His second coming with great anticipation as the culmination of His consolation for all eternity. Simeon and I are more alike than I thought.

  • I have to admit I am always bothered by the traditions that force women to be “unclean” because of the natural and blessed rhythms of life. Yet these traditions also let women take a break from life, to be cared for by others and not even share the marriage bed for a time. Especially in old times, this would have actually come as a relief to most women, a time to rely on female relatives for help, and a time to rest. I can’t change history or traditions that bother me. But I can see God’s wisdom and love in it. And I can be grateful that, while these traditions still hold fast in some cultures, as Christians, God has given us forgiveness. We do not need to trade sacrifices for salvation any longer. Praise God and His precious son Jesus Christ!

    • Mandi

      Yes! Absolutely! God has a plan in all things & I love this perspective!

    • Juliana Ford

      Wow, thank you for your perspective on this, Kay! I also have been wrestling with this passage from Leviticus that reinforces the thought that women are “unclean”. But perhaps God knew that this was the best way to get through to the people of Israel so that they would listen, and give women the rest they so desperately needed post-childbirth. ..

  • I’m struck that, while Simeon and Anna recognised Jesus as the Messiah that day, there were probably many other people there, going about the business of worship and bringing their offerings, not even realizing that the one God had promised was right there with them!
    It challenges me to be like Simeon and Anna- devoted to seeking God, taking time to listen, and open to what he is doing- because I don’t want to miss out on noticing!

    • Kelly R Smith

      I feel like the last month was a blur of preparations. It is too easy to miss the signs and symbols of Christ all around me. These quiet moments here at SRT help me listen to his voice and notice he is all around. I need this time to keep me aware of his presence and his promises!

    • Kay

      Lesley, thank you for noticing that in the passage, I missed that message this morning. You are right, we can’t notice glory, wonder, and blessed events around us if we are too busy to take the time. Lord, help me notice You all around me today. Help me see the miracle of forgiveness everywhere I look so I can forgive, too. Amen.

    • Emily B.

      That’s a great (and convicting) point. Thanks for sharing!

  • “The Holy Spirit was upon him”. That jumped out at me. Simeon was a man of God and God’s spirit was upon him. God is our Creator and Father, Jesus is our Redeemer, but the Holy Spirit is sometimes a puzzle to me. I understand that He is the power and wisdom that we seek and cannot live without. Yet, I find it hard to grasp the Holy Spirit. My soul longs to feel Him directing me as he directed Simeon, giving me wisdom and the power to live the life that God calls for me to live. Trying to live a Christ centered life without the power of the Holy Spirit is fruitless. I pray today that the Holy Spirit will enlighten me. I pray He will give me the wisdom to follow God’s path for me and power to walk as a child of God.

    • Susan

      You should do the upcoming online Bible study, Discerning the Voice of God by Priscilla Shirer. Just finished this study at my church and going to join it January 18 online as well. This study was amazing and will help you in grasping the Holy Spirit. You can sign up at Lifeway.com or Goingbeyond.com. You will gain a clearer understanding of Who the Holy Spirit is, that He lives in us, and how to discern His voice from all the others that bombard us daily.

  • Reading about Anna is so inspiring.
    The fact that she has been widowed so powerful this morning, as I’m recently single and reminding myself to take refuge in the Lord rather than in men. Anna is a guidepost for doing that well, in the Message it says “she never left the temple area, fasting and worshiping day and night.” Today, we don’t need to go to a holy place for this – but we can keep the aspiration the same, being with God day and night!

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