22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
A lot of people struggle with the month of January. The euphoria of Christmas followed by the quick return to routine can leave a lot of people feeling down. The so called ‘January Blues’ can affect almost all of us. Money can also play a big factor in this. When we tend to splash out so much during December on presents for friends and family, by January our bank accounts can seem somewhat sparse. This year I felt that these ‘blues’ hit me harder than at any other time previous. It would be unfair of me to say it was depression, because there are people who experience this every day of their lives. After all, feelings aren’t dictated by a date. But, whatever it was, I had left a cloud that seemed to hang around me for a couple of weeks. I just couldn’t shake it off. All I wanted to do was quit work and hide away somewhere.
Christmas in our household felt quite special which may be a reason why I slumped so much come the New Year. We had prepared for it by doing a daily family Advent devotional which really put us in the right frame of mind as to why this season is so special. But even with 2 young children in the house, it’s hard to convince them that Christmas isn’t over by the 27th December. In fact this year to emphasise the point, we took the Wise Men out of our Nativity scene, and brought them upstairs, and each day we moved the figurines down a stair at a time so that they reached the place where Jesus was on 6th January. And even now, in the rest of the Sunday’s during Epiphany in our church, we’re still singing the praises of the Christ-child, born of a Virgin; the gold of obedience, and incense of lowliness. The positive effects of Christmas are even now still with us.
With my spirit feeling low, I decided to cheer myself up by reading through the entire book of Leviticus. A book which exemplifies what the child born in the manger would go on to be — the great High Priest; the one who would make it possible for us to have a right relationship with God through the shedding of his blood. I found myself struck particularly by chapter 12 which goes through the rituals of purification following childbirth. As I read through it, my mind returned to Mary and everything she would’ve had to do until she would be ‘purified.’
The 25th December is the date we’ve been given for celebrating the birth of Christ. (Whether you accept that as the date or not; it’s the one that has been designated since around the third century). When you read through Leviticus 12, it’s hard not to see how the Hebrew Scriptures shape our liturgical calendar, and when you apply it to Christ’s birth, it makes fascinating reading. From v2 we can see that Mary would’ve been unclean for seven days after giving birth. v3- ‘On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised. (The 1st January as we have in our liturgical calendar). V4’ Then the woman must wait thirty-three days to be purified from her bleeding.’ That brings us to the 2nd February in our liturgical calendar, the day designated as ‘The Presentation of Christ in the Temple’ which is basically the day that ends Mary’s purification.
Let’s jump to Luke chapter 2:22
‘When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.” This latter quote is taken directly from Leviticus 12:8, but it’s not quoting the full verse. What the mother was expected to bring to the sacrifice was a year old lamb, but Leviticus 12:8 begins by saying “but if she cannot afford a lamb, she is to bring two doves or two young pigeons.” With no mention of a lamb being brought by Mary and Joseph to the temple in Luke’s account, we may miss the subtle reminder of the poverty that Jesus was born into. But regardless of wealth, what is important here is Mary’s faithfulness and obedience, ever since the Angel Gabriel announced to her God’s plan for her life. She diligently obeyed and journeyed through God’s ultimate plan for her life. She was faithful to the Law, to the Hebrew Scriptures, to God. And here’s the thing. God blessed her for it. Within 2 years, one of the gifts offered to her son would be gold as recorded in Matthew’s account. I know that when our boys receive money as gifts, some of it is put into their bank accounts, and some of it is spent on their needs. Either way, we as a family feel blessed by what they’ve received. I known too that the gift of gold could symbolise Christ’s kingship here on earth, but literally, if gold was received, I believe it shows God blessing Mary (and Joseph too) for being faithful to His word. If that’s the case, how much more then will God bless us when we remain faithful to Him? It may not be in physical wealth, but our ‘gold’ can come in any variety of ways. God will choose the right gift to bestow on us. Even if we’re going through a season when we’re feeling low, or are going through a difficult time, let’s take encouragement that as we present ourselves to God, that we too have received purification through the blood which our great High Priest shed for us.
Richard, along with his wife Julie, run an independent Christian bookshop in Belfast called The Bookwell. They have 2 children, Jack and Ben