On the fortieth day of the incarnation Mary and Joseph, as a faithful Jewish couple, presented their firstborn Son at the temple and “bought” him back with a sacrifice of a two small birds. This is known as the “Presentation of Our Lord” and is celebrated in the church on February 2nd. It deserves more than one day. So we continue our contemplation on this sacred event we started yesterday.
Why the fortieth day? There was a law that stated that mothers were unclean for forty days after giving birth. Doesn’t this seem unfair? Well, it gets worse. Women were also unclean after their period. Also, a man was unclean after a nocturnal emission. Death also made one clean along with certain foods and skin diseases. Uncleanness was everywhere.
While we are not given a tutorial on the exact purpose of all of these laws there seem to be three major reasons. The first reason is practical. People with skin diseases should be quarantined. The second reason was separation. God had a promise to keep: a Messiah from a certain people in a certain land. These clean/unclean laws kept his people from being swallowed up by other cultures. If you doubt this consider the opening ceremonies of the next Olympics or the United Nations. You will not find a contingent from Moab, Philistia, or Edom but Israel remains.
The third reason was theological. Notice that many of the clean/unclean laws had to do with birth, death, or blood. Notice also that one could become unclean by careless action but also could be considered unclean without any deliberate action. Who chooses to have a period? Could it be that the clean/unclean laws reinforced these theological truths? 1. Uncleanness (sin) is handed down through the generations. We were born (even conceived) sinful. 2. Sin leads to death. 3. We cannot avoid being unclean (sinful). 4. We cannot clean ourselves. We need to be cleansed by an outside source.
So Mary comes unclean even though she waited forty days. Maybe she was ceremonially clean but still she came with the uncleanness of sin. So did Joseph and so did every other Jewish firstborn baby boy who was to be presented at the temple according to the Law do Moses. But not Jesus. He is different. He is the one who is clean. Remember when he touched the coffin of the dead man at Nain? A big no-no. Not only was it rude but Jesus would have been made unclean, as if the uncleanness of death was transferred to him. But it wasn’t rude for Jesus is the one who is clean and his “cleanness” was transferred to the dead (unclean) man.
Jesus is the outside source of cleanness, of righteousness, of life. He enters this world of sinful uncleanness and death with the power of his Gospel. Darkness, death, sin, and uncleanness scatter as he enters out world and indeed our hearts. We can’t do it ourselves so encounters us and rudely interrupts our lives with his saving righteousness. We cannot help but be unclean. There are times sin makes us feel unclean, whether it be our sin or a sin committed against us. Either way we are stuck. Here is out outside solution: Christ and his righteousness for us. He bursts into our lives with his righteousness and by his righteousness we are clean.
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