Newsletter of St. John the Apostle Parish
Dear Parish Family and Friends,
Happy New Year! And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb. And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him, to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord; (as it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;) and to offer a sacrifice according to that which was in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtle-doves, or two young pigeons.
St. Luke 2:21-24
In this passage we see Jesus undergoing three ancient ceremonies which every Jewish boy had to undergo.
Circumcision. Every Jewish boy was circumcised on the eighth day after his birth. The ceremony was so sacred was it could be carried out even on a Sabbath when the law forbade almost every other act which was not essential; and on that day a boy received his name.
The Redemption of the First-born. According to the law ( Exodus 13:2 ) every firstborn male. both of human beings and of cattle, was sacred to God. That law may have been a recognition of the gracious power of God in giving human life, or it may even have been a relic of the day when children were sacrificed to the gods. Clearly, if it had been carried out literally life would have been disrupted. Therefore, there was a ceremony called the Redemption of the Firstborn ( Numbers 18:16 ). It is laid down that for the sum of five shekels parents could, as it were, buy back their son from God. The sum had to be paid to the priests. It could not be paid sooner than thirty-one days after the birth of the child.
The Purification after Childbirth. When a woman had borne a child, if it was a boy, she was unclean for forty days and if it was a girl, she was unclean for eighty days. She could go about her household and her daily business but she could not enter the Temple or share in any religious ceremony. ( Leviticus 12:1-8 ). At the end of that time, she had to bring to the Temple a lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon for a sin offering. That was a somewhat expensive sacrifice, and so the law said: ( Leviticus 12:8 ) that if she could not afford the lamb she might bring another pigeon. The offering of the two pigeons instead of the lamb and the pigeon was technically called The Offering of the Poor. It was the offering of the poor which Mary brought. Again, we see that it was into an ordinary home that Jesus was born, a home where there were no luxuries, a home where every penny had to be looked at twice, a home where the members of the family knew all about the difficulties of making a living and the insecurity of life. When life is worrying for us, we must remember that Jesus knew what the difficulties of making ends meet can be.
These three ceremonies are strange old ceremonies; but all three have at the back of them the conviction that a child is a gift of God. The Stoics used to say that a child was not given to a parent but only lent. Of all God's gifts there is none for which we shall be so answerable as the gift of a child.