Following the ultra-famous (and important) Christmas story in the first half of Luke 2, the gospel writer turns his attention to the formal naming of Jesus and his parents giving thanks for his birth. I love this part of Luke for a few reasons. The slightly crazy figure of Simeon always makes me chuckle. Whether I imagine him as a very elderly man, a statesman of the faith, or as a young Jewish zealot, fanatical and angry, his encounter with Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus provides a continuation of the startling events that take place in the first half of the chapter. And the prophet Anna warms my Methodist heart as I read about how she attended upon the the practices of the faith. But today I am struck again by the introductory verses to this episode in the life of Jesus.Mary and Joseph are following instructions from Exodus and from Leviticus. When we first read the Luke passage and hear about how “the first born male is dedicated as holy to the Lord” (Luke 2:23), it can be tempting to assume that this is just some kind of reflection of agrarian cultures where first born male children are overly exulted. Instead, what we see in Exodus 13:11-16 is that the instructions for first born male children are about continually reminding everyone about God’s great salvation of the people from slavery in Egypt by the tenth plague that killed many first born sons, but spared the Hebrew children. The second part of the instructions come from Leviticus 12 and explain the appropriate offering for a new child. The notable item for me is that the instructions provide two possible sacrifices, one regular sacrifice and an optional one for people who cannot afford the regular. Mary and Joseph offer the optional sacrifice, reminding us again of the poverty Jesus was born into and desire of God for all people to have access to God without regard for economic condition.
This part of Luke is incredibly important for all kinds of theological reasons, but today it got me to thinking about what we do to celebrate new life and children. We certainly understand our children to be precious gifts of God that remind us of all that God has done for us. And we celebrate by sharing photos of a new baby with everyone we know and meet. But I can’t help but wonder if there are places we have fallen short. Do we encourage new, young parents to participate in the central life of the worshiping community? Or do we wish the crying children would just be taken outside? Do we encourage one another to be like Simeon and Anna, and speak to these parents and treat them well? In some cases we do these things, in some cases we don’t. Let us continue to grow deeper in our faith by working on this together.