Gospel: Luke 2:22-32

What Do We Present to the Lord?

What do you spend most of your time thinking about during worship on Sunday?

You wouldn't be reading this article if you were not committed to a relationship with God. But, what is the quality of your relationship? God gives us all good gifts, including his best. What do we offer him in return? Is it the most precious thing we possess? Or does it come from our surplus?

God wants for our best. And we have an example of Mary and Joseph offered their most precious gift to God. To show us that as God gives, we should give.

Popular Translation

22 After Jesus was born, (the amount of time found in the Law of Moses), Joseph and Mary took the boy to Jerusalem. 23 They presented Jesus to God at the Temple because God's Law said, "The first child whom a mother bears will be called special for God." 24 They also worshiped God with an offering of two birds, just like God's Law commands.

25 A man named Simeon lived in Jerusalem. Always trying to live by God's will, Simeon loved the Lord and waited for God to visit his people. God's Spirit lived in Simeon 26 and told him he would see the Messiah before he died. 27 The Spirit led Simeon into the Temple, where Joseph and Mary brought Jesus to worship God. (They did this for Jesus according to the custom of God's Law.) 28 There, Simeon took Jesus into his arms and praised God:

29 "Now, you can let me die in your peace, Lord;
you kept your word to me.
30 I have seen the One who will save your people,
31 whom everyone will see.
32 He will be a light to every nation,
and will bring great honor to Israel, your people."

Literal Translation

22 And when the days of their cleansing according to the Law of Moses were fulfilled, they led HIM up to Jerusalem to present (HIM) to the Lord 23 just as it has been written in the Law of the Lord, "Every male that opens (his mother's) womb will be called holy to the Lord" 24 and to give a sacrificial offering according to that having been said in the Law of the Lord, "A pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons."

25 And, Look! (There) was a man in Jerusalem whose name (was) Simeon, and this man (was) righteous and devout, awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit not to see death before he might see the Messiah of the Lord. 27 And he went in the Spirit into the Temple. And after the parents led in the small child Jesus so they could perform (the ritual) according to that having been the custom of the Law concerning HIM. 28 He welcomed HIM into (his arms), blessed God, and said,

29 Now, release your servant, O Despot,
by your word in peace,
30 because my eyes saw your deliverance,
31 whom you prepared in the view of all peoples,
32 a light for the revelation of the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.

2:22-24 This long sentence has "led HIM up" as the main verb (with object) with two explanatory infinitives, "to present HIM" and "to give a sacrificial offering." Luke connected the couples' action, the Temple, and the Law to stress the Jewish roots of Jesus.

2:22 "They" refer to Joseph and Mary. The pronoun "HIM"(referring to Jesus) acted as the object of both the verb "led" and the infinitive "to present." "...to present him to the Lord . . . " was not part of the cleansing ritual; it meant bringing Jesus into the presence of the Lord who, according to Jewish belief, dwelt in the Temple.

2:23 " . . . every male that opens the womb . . . " from Exodus 13:2 referred to the first born, both human and animal.

2:24 " . . . to give a sacrificial offering . . . " is literally "to give sacrifice . . . " Since the couple could not offer sacrifice in the Temple (only the priest could perform the ritual), they could only provide the animals for sacrifice. "...a pair of turtle doves..." listed in Leviticus 12:8 as a poor person's substitute for lambs in a purification sacrifice.

2:25 " . . . the consolation of Israel . . . " echoed Isaiah 40:1 and 61:2. This phrase referred to the comfort God would give Israel at the end of time when the Messiah would come. John the Evangelist used the word "comfort" (i.e., "paraklesis" in Greek) to describe the Spirit (the Paraclete); the Spirit was a gift the Messiah would give at his arrival.

2:29 "O Despot" is a literal translation meaning "Lord." The word "despot" finds its root in the Greek. "Peace" means "Shalom," a feeling of harmony with God, one's neighbor, and nature. In this sense, peace is living God's will, not a stress-free life or a life without violence.

2:31 " . . . in the view of . . . " is literally " . . . in the face of . . . "

2:32 " . . . for the revelation of the nations . . . " is literally " . . . toward the unveiling of the nations . . . "

The translations and notes here were based upon the study for Luke 2:22-40 (the Feast of the Holy Family, Cycle B). In the context of the Christmas season, that study focused upon the identity of Jesus. This study places its emphasis upon the other characters in the story and their activity: the worship of God.

The scene began with the arrival of the Holy Family in Jerusalem to fulfill a religious duty. Luke's interpretation of the duty was based upon two traditions: the circumcision of the Jesus and the purification of the mother.

Luke used two bible passages in 2:22-24. The first passage was: "Every male that opens (his mother's) womb will be called holy to the Lord" (Exodus 13:2, 12, 15). As God was the giver of life, he was to be offered life. The first male (if human, the chief heir; if animal, the guarantee of a flock/herd's strength) was to be returned to God. In the case of animals (except the ass, which was unclean), sacrifice was dictated. In the case of a male child, a substitute offering was to be made.

The second passage was: "A pair of turtle doves or two young pigeons" (Leviticus 12:8). Leviticus 12 described the circumcision of a male child and the unclean status of the new mother. The rite of purification for a mother was the burnt sacrifice of a lamb and the sacrifice of a turtledove as a sin offering. A pair of doves or pigeons could be substituted for the lamb/dove if the woman was poor.

Luke included the firstborn's substitute sacrifice with that of the offering for a woman's purification. Thematically, he presented a "two-for-one" offering. Why did he compress these traditions into one event? To focus upon the worship of God through offering.

In the presentation of the Lord, Luke foreshadowed the ministry of the young Messiah. Many contemporaries of Jesus had particular images of the Messiah. For them, the Messiah would be both king and high priest, leading the people in true worship at the Temple. The Temple was the focal point for Jewish worship, for the people believed God truly dwelt there (see Isaiah 6). But, Jesus (and the evangelists) had different ideas. The Messiah would worship God as one of the people, not above or beyond the people. He would teach the people in the Temple as a populist. After all, the Messiah came to show all God was with his people, even in their worship.

To emphasize that point, Luke presented only the laity in the scene: Simeon, the Spirit-filled worshiper, and Anna, the elderly prophetess (not included in this gospel). Compare Simeon with the figure of Zechariah who stumbled on the message of Gabriel (Luke 1:5-23). Notice both men were faithful Jews. Both, according to their station, worshiped in the Temple. But, while Zechariah had the privilege of position, Simeon was full of the Spirit [2:25-27a]. Zechariah the priest did not understand the power and message of God. Simeon the lay man did.

After the sacrifice (but still within the Temple), Simeon encountered the couple and the young Jesus. In his Canticle, Simeon proclaimed the fulfillment of God's promise to himself (and implicitly, to the people). Now he could die in Shalom, the peace only God could give. [2:29] Why? Because Simeon witnessed firsthand the universal Messiah ("the light to the nations") born from God's people (for "the glory of Israel"). Notice that Simeon made these statements in the Temple, a place of pilgrimage for faithful Jews from the Diaspora and for the Gentiles who worshiped YHWH on the courtyard outside the Temple. So, he proclaimed what God had done "in the sight of the nations." In other words, a Spirit-filled lay man saw what God had revealed in his Temple to the faithful from all over the known world. The Messiah was here!

Beyond the characters in the narrative lay a dialogue between God and his people. The people present God with the best they received from him. In turn, God presents them with a gift for all. 

What gifts has God given to you? How have you returned those gifts back to him? What do God's gifts to you say to others?

We all receive from God. And he calls us to give back to him. Our gifts and our lives. The quality of the gift we give will never outdo the gift he gives to us. But the gift we offer does shout volumes to others. In this sense, worship becomes evangelization. Our offering invites others to worship and, like, Simeon, to proclaim Jesus as the "light to the nations."

Reflect on your worship. What specific gifts can you bring to God's altar this week?