Today is the Feast of the Presentation. The child Jesus is now 40 days old. This is the last celebration we have of the child Jesus, until we begin again with the Annunciation. In the Jewish law, the presentation signified the end of the pregnancy of Mary, since the official recovery after pregnancy was 40 days for a boy and 80 days for a girl. Today Mary is bringing her sacrifice to the temple: two birds. She was supposed to bring one bird and one lamb, but a poor woman is allowed to bring two birds instead. Here is another sign that our Lord was not ashamed to be poor.
The lamb or the first bird was a burnt offering to the Lord. It was not eaten as most sacrifices are. It was burned up entirely. The odor of the burning animal rose with the smoke and the sweet smell made atonement to the Lord for the mother. The second animal, always a bird, was killed with a thumbnail, its blood squeezed out, and then the meat was eaten by the priest’s family. It was an offering for unintentional or unavoidable sin, in this case, touching blood. These sacrifices are bizarre to us, even more so than sacrifices in general. The idea that a woman would need to atone for giving birth or had committed a sin while doing so is strange; we are uncomfortable that such a thing would be required in the Law given to Moses by God.
It seems that Luke was also uncomfortable with the idea since he makes no mention of the actual sacrifice. He instead tells us about two people whom Mary and Joseph met on their way in: an old man and an old woman. The old man, Simeon, just runs up and takes Jesus, blessing and praising God. The old woman, Anna, appears, thanks God, and begins telling people about the child. Here Jesus is welcomed by the people Israel in the way that he ought to have been welcomed. All Israel is represented in these two people who were longing for the Messiah. We celebrate today the fulfillment of the Old Testament. This story is very Old Testament: we have the ancient sacrifices and the prophets longing for a Savior, but something is different – the Savior has arrived. All prophecy is fulfilled. All sacrifice is ended. Most of the people do not know yet, but this child is the fulfillment of every prophecy; this child is the sacrifice that takes away all sins.