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Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: February 2, 2002
By Betsy Wiederkehr Huss
Feb. 2 is the date our Church calendar marks as the feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. It occurs 40 days after the celebration of Christmas, a time period that was significant in the life of a faithful Jewish couple, such as Mary and Joseph.
The Law of Moses states that a woman who had given birth to a male child was unclean for seven days. The boy could then be circumcised on the eighth day. For the mother of the boy, 33 additional days were required for the process of purification.
As stated in Leviticus 12:4, “She shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her purification are fulfilled.” (If a girl was born, the mother was excluded from the sanctuary for 80 days.)
After the days of purification, a woman was required to bring to the priest a yearling lamb for a holocaust offering and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. The priest would offer these sacrifices before the Lord as atonement for her and then she would be clean again. If she could not afford a lamb, she was to offer turtledoves or pigeons for both sacrifices.
Mary offered two turtledoves or two pigeons (Luke 2:24) presumably because she and Joseph could not afford the lamb. Mary provided one bird for the burnt offering in thanksgiving for the birth of her son Jesus. The other bird was Mary’s sin offering. Although she herself was without sin, Mary was obedient to the Law and made the offering.
It is also written that the first-born male was to be consecrated to the Lord (Exodus 13:2, 12, 13). While parents were not required to take their child to the Temple in Jerusalem for this consecration, Mary and Joseph did so anyway. The Temple becomes the backdrop for two encounters that reveal the identity and mission of Jesus.
The first encounter is with Simeon (Luke 2:25-35), a “righteous and devout” man who had the “Holy Spirit upon him.” Simeon’s devotion and prompting by the Spirit undoubtedly placed him at the Temple at the time that Mary and Joseph arrived with baby Jesus.
Aware that he would not die before he saw the Messiah of God, Simeon recognized Jesus as God’s salvation and proclaimed him “a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for [God’s] people Israel.”
Imagine the overwhelming surprise for these new parents as they pondered the words of this faithful old man. Then, imagine the further surprise upon encountering an elderly widowed woman, Anna, who had devoted herself to the service of God (Luke 2:36-38).
Legend has it that she had previously taught Mary in the Temple area. This woman, known for her constant presence at the Temple and a life of prayer and fasting, praised and thanked God for Jesus. But she didn’t stop there; she “spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.” Simeon and Anna helped to prepare Mary and Joseph for the ministry of their son Jesus; they also help to prepare us for the Messiah and Redeemer of the world as he comes into the temple of our hearts and homes.
Betsy Wiederkehr Huss has a master’s degree in theology and has been involved in campus and youth ministry for 20 years. She lives in Jonesboro.