Text: Exodus 13:1-3a, 11-15
Date: Christmas I + 12/27/15
On this third day of Christmas the word of God tells us about the thirty-third day after Jesus’ circumcision. We will celebrate the circumcision of our Lord on the eighth day according to the Law of Moses, on January first, the eighth day according to the Church’s calendar when Jesus was circumcised in His home town of Bethlehem. The next important requirement of the Law of God, however, was the purification of Mary and the presentation of Jesus, her first-born, with the appointed sacrifice. This is one of the oldest and most important of God’s covenantal laws as we heard its institution immediately preceding the Passover Exodus of Israel from their bondage in Egypt. It was to remind and remember that fundamental, original deliverance by God. God’s final plague and sign to Pharaoh was the death of all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast. So now God claims the firstborn of His people and their beasts as sacrifices of praise to Him, a reminder of God’s original deliverance. When asked by your son what this ceremony means they were to say, “I sacrifice to the Lord all the males that first open the womb, but all the firstborn of my sons I redeem.” To redeem means to buy back, to save by means of paying the redemption price. Today we hear of the Redeemer being redeemed, that is, dedicated to the service of the God who sent Him. He Himself would be the redemption price for the salvation of the whole world, for your salvation.
The rite of the purification of women has come down to us until very recent times called “The Churching of Women.” The new mother was to come into the Church (“decently appareled,” says the Book of Common Prayer) and to kneel where the Minister is to say to her, “Forasmuch as it hath pleased Almighty God, of his goodness, to give you safe deliverance, and to preserve you in the great danger of Child-birth; you shall therefore give hearty thanks unto God, and say,” then follows Psalm 116, the Lord’s Prayer and a prayer of thanksgiving. It is interesting that the 1789 rite ends with the note, “The woman, that cometh to give her Thanks, must offer accustomed offerings, which shall be applied by the Minister and the Churchwardens to the relief of distressed women in child-bed.” It is obvious that this rite was more usual in the days when childbirth was a dangerous event. I remember looking at the nearly 150-year-old records of Trinity Jackson how the majority of funerals in the early days were of infants! These days modern medical procedures have made it more safe, if not for the children then for the mothers, and probably for that reason the “Churching of Women” rite has all but disappeared. Maybe, for that reason, we ought to bring back the rite!
It is an interesting detail that Joseph and Mary were not able financially to offer the primary sacrifice of a lamb as a burnt offering, but, as the Law says, “if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean” (Lev 12:6-8). But not only does this indicate that the holy family was poor, but on a spiritual level, no lamb was necessary because already here at forty days old, Jesus is the Lamb of God brought to his temple for sacrifice.
On this day, therefore, we are to remember God’s deliverance of His people from the slavery of Egypt in order to remember our deliverance from the slavery of sin. That deliverance or redemption happened at the price of the shedding of blood, as the letter to the Hebrews says, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb 9:22). Jesus first shed drops of His blood at His circumcision, shed them for us. As God’s Son now dedicated to the mission for which He was sent down from heaven it would all culminate in the shedding of His blood in the death of the cross, thus providing forgiveness of sins for the whole world, so holy and sinless he was “for us and for our salvation.”
A man named Simeon remembered and blessed God as he held the Redeemer in his own arms. “My eyes have seen your salvation” he sang. Then he prophesied of that great sacrifice of blood to come, saying, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.)” A woman named Anna also remembered and gave thanks to God for all “who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” Because there He was, the redeemer Himself!
For ten more days we will rejoice, celebrate and remember God’s redemption, deliverance of us all by the gift of His Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Let us remember in our day all those holy innocents who are slaughtered before birth and not allowed to see the light of day. May they dwell in the light of God’s grace and love. Let us also remember with the quiet, confident words of Simeon for our own end in this life and entrance into the life to come.
In peace and joy I now depart
Since God so wills it.
Serene and confident my heart;
Stillness fills it.
For the Lord has promised me
That death is but a slumber. (LSB 938:1)