In our 2021 dated planners this year, we included important liturgical dates in the Christian calendar. Today, 2 February is the Presentation of Jesus, a holy day that many Christians the world over celebrate.
The story of the Presentation of our Lord at the temple is an early chapter in Jesus' life, which we read about in Luke 2:22-29. To understand the story, one must have some background information on Jewish traditions of the time.
As faithful Jews, Mary and Joseph observed their religious customs.
An important custom was for the couple to take their first-born son forty days after his birth to their temple to be dedicated to God; (think of it as a modern-day dedication ceremony or christening) and for the parents to be purified. It was also customary for the parents to offer up a sacrifice. If the parents were wealthy, they would offer a lamb and a young pigeon or a turtle dove. If the parents were poor, as Mary and Joseph were, they could offer two pigeons or two turtle doves for the sacrifice.
Joseph and Mary offered two turtle doves.
The Presentation of the Christ Child in the Temple, Phillippe de Champaigne (1648)
At the Temple, Mary and Joseph met a man named Simeon. Simeon was a scholar who learned of a coming Messiah through his study of the prophets of Israel. Simeon often prayed for God to send the Messiah. One day, while in prayer, God spoke to Simeon and told him he would live until He sent the Messiah.
When Simeon saw Jesus, he took the baby in his arms and blessed the Lord, and said:
"Lord, now let Your servant go in peace according to Your promise, because my eyes have seen Your salvation which you have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory to your people Israel."
The Presentation of Jesus at the temple in Jerusalem is an important event in our Christian calendar because Jesus and Mary had no obligation to follow these laws due to the nature of Mary's virginal conception and the birth of her son Jesus. The law affecting the redeeming of the first-born did not apply to Jesus, because he is the true Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world. It is important for us, to note that even though these rules did not apply to them, they were followed. This shows obedience to God. It tells us we should follow God's law.
As the mother of Christ, Mary understood Jesus had to be brought to the temple, not to be redeemed like any other first-born child, but to be given to God as the true sacrifice, which we later see play out through Jesus' crucifixion.
When Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifices and offerings you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not take pleasure. Then I said: 'Lo, I have come to do your will, O God,' as it is written of me in the roll of the book" (Heb 10:5-7).