Friday, January 28, 2011

Preface: On the Fortieth Day: The Presentation of the Lord


When the days were completed for their purification according to the law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, just as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male that opens the womb shall be consecrated to the Lord," and to offer the sacrifice of "a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons," in accordance with the dictate in the law of the Lord. (Luke 2:22-24)

Early in the fourth century, St. Cyril, bishop of Jerusalem, wrote Pope St. Julius, bishop of Rome, to inquire about the date of Christ’s birth. One might think that if anyone was qualified to answer the question it would be St. Cyril himself; primarily because he was the bishop of Jerusalem, just a few miles away from Bethlehem, the birthplace of Christ. Nevertheless, it just so happened that the city of Jerusalem was pillaged in 70 A.D. by the Roman army, led by General Titus, in order to repress an uprising of Jewish zealots. In the process, the Temple was destroyed and its records- along with the census documents -were brought back to Rome only to be filed among the Roman archives. Less than three hundred years later, these documents were evidently still in existence. Interestingly enough, St. Julius was the acting bishop of Rome after Christianity had been legalized. As such, he had privileged access to the Roman archives. St. Julius wrote back to the Saintly Bishop of Jerusalem and assigned December 25th as the birth date of Jesus Christ. “St. John Chrysostom quotes the same authority of the Roman archives as the source of the date of Christmas.”

It can therefore be determined that the day in which Jesus was presented in the Temple as an infant was February 2nd. Indeed, on the fortieth day of his earthly life, Jesus was presented to the Lord of Hosts by the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph. For the first time in the Temple’s five hundred plus years of existence (one thousand if you include the first Temple), the only worthy offering was made to God within its precincts. Nothing could give greater honor to God nor be more pleasing to him than the presentation of Jesus. The millions upon millions of sacrificed lambs were but a symbol and precursor to the "Lamb of God who would take away the sin of the world."

In book of Leviticus the Lord prescribed that for every mother who gave birth to a child would be ritually “unclean” (not morally or spiritually) due to the release of blood during labor; that is, she was prohibited from participating in religious activities and community worship for seven days. For the next thirty-three days, she would undergo a rite of purification.

Allow me to briefly digress: In the Old Testament any kind of abnormality or anything unclean such as blood, a laceration, leprosy, and even a corpse represented sin and spiritual darkness for the people of God. The slightest contact with it would render a Jew "unclean." It can be said that unholiness was more powerful than holiness. If one were to touch that which was unclean, that person would be deemed unfit to worship according to the law of Moses. Jesus, however, would reverse this Old Testament curse or penalty during his public ministry. For instance, he touched corpses, such as the widow’s son at Nain. Furthermore, he was touched by unclean people such Bartimaeus the leper and by a woman who hemorrhaged for twelve years. Yet, these repeated contacts did not make Jesus “unclean;” it was rather the case that with his touch they were made whole. Upon our Lord's coming, therefore, holiness would be more powerful than unholiness or ritual impurity. To put it another way, when Holiness of the Lord would come into contact with unholiness, or when the divine confronted the demonic, it was unholiness and evil that gave way.

Now back to the presentation of Jesus: As for the Blessed Virgin Mary, she did not need this rite of purification; this, for two reasons: First, she was immaculately conceived both outside of Eve’s shadow and Satan’s dominion. Secondly, as one being exempt from the penalty of Eve’s sin- that being labor pains -she did not experience natural labor pains nor did she bleed from delivering her first born Son. It is revealed truth that Jesus’ birth was of a miraculous nature. Indeed, according to the early Church Fathers, Mary was a virgin before, during and after our Lord’s birth.

As Virgin and Mother, Mary brings the Christ-child to those who wait on the Lord. And St. Simeon was one of the first among many who would receive Jesus from the hands of Mary.

More on the next blog-