Like Hannah at the beginning of Samuel's story and Elizabeth at the beginning of John the Baptist's story, my friend Becky was barren. When I was Dan and Becky's pastor, we prayed that she would get pregnant. She did, but before we barely had time to say thanks, she miscarried. For this young couple it looked like natural childbirth was impossible. Then, about a year ago, I was standing in line to sign the guestbook at a wedding in a small town west of Waco when Dan and Becky walked in.
Nestled in Dan's arms was his baby girl. Appropriately, her name was Hannah. They filled me in on the story. Right before they put adoption into high gear, Becky had some tests come back that didn't add up. Pregnancy seemed out of the question, but her doctors checked and a little over nine months later Dan was holding the results. She was tiny, only a few weeks old, but beautiful. Thick dark hair, little fists clenched, and a gorgeous ruddy complexion. Her daddy held her tight through the ceremony and most of the reception. Joy, thanks, beauty, love. Looking down at Hannah in her daddy's arms, I was reminded of all the things we've been learning from Luke about the birth of Jesus. Then I came to Luke's presentation of Mary and Joseph's dedication of Jesus at the Temple, and his strange talk about their uncleanness.
"Now when the days of their uncleanness were completed according to the Law of Moses, they took him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord. This was in obedience to what stands written in the Law of the Lord, 'Every male that opens the womb of his mother (every firstborn son) is called set apart for the LORD and the sacrificial offering in the Lord's Law is a pair of small pigeons or two young doves." - Luke 2:22-24
If ever there was a mother whose birth of a son would not make her unclean, it was Mary. Gabriel, the archangel, had even declared that she was highly favored by the Lord and that the Lord was with her. Yet forty days after giving birth to the Messiah, Luke presents her going up to the Temple with Joseph to offer the sacrifice demanded of every Jewish girl to atone for her uncleanness after childbirth (Leviticus 12:2-4).
Leviticus only talks about the new mother's uncleanness, but Luke stresses that both Mary and Joseph were unclean, and that they did exactly what Moses commanded. Because they were poor, they offered two small birds, instead of a lamb (Leviticus 12:6). The tiny birds had to die to atone for their sin (Leviticus 12:7).
Mary and Joseph, like all of us, are unclean, but here at the beginning of Jesus' life the tiny birds sacrificed point us forward to the climax of Luke's story where God's firstborn, the One who was fully dedicated to His Father, would die so that not only Mary and Joseph, but each of us could be made clean forever.
LORD, thank you that the only totally pure and morally clean baby ever born was willing to identify even at the beginning of His life with us. Thank you that as Mary and Joseph did what the Mosaic Law commanded, their presentation of Jesus at the Temple foreshadowed what He would do for us on the cross. This Christmas season move many to realize that the biblical Mary, like us, needed to trust in Jesus, the only One who is sinless, pure, and holy. Thank you that Jesus sacrificed Himself not only so that his parents could be purified, but also so that all of us could receive this forgiveness too.
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