Luke 2:21-24 (CEB) Jesus’ circumcision, naming, and temple presentation
21 When eight days had passed, Jesus’ parents circumcised him and gave him the name Jesus. This was the name given to him by the angel before he was conceived. 22 When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”) 24 They offered a sacrifice in keeping with what’s stated in the Law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.[a]
Matthew 2:1-15 (CEB) Coming of the magi
2 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the territory of Judea during the rule of King Herod, magi came from the east to Jerusalem. 2 They asked, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We’ve seen his star in the east, and we’ve come to honor him.”
3 When King Herod heard this, he was troubled, and everyone in Jerusalem was troubled with him. 4 He gathered all the chief priests and the legal experts and asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5 They said, “In Bethlehem of Judea, for this is what the prophet wrote:
You, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
by no means are you least among the rulers of Judah,
because from you will come one who governs,
who will shepherd my people Israel.”[a]
7 Then Herod secretly called for the magi and found out from them the time when the star had first appeared. 8 He sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search carefully for the child. When you’ve found him, report to me so that I too may go and honor him.” 9 When they heard the king, they went; and look, the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stood over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were filled with joy. 11 They entered the house and saw the child with Mary his mother. Falling to their knees, they honored him. Then they opened their treasure chests and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 Because they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they went back to their own country by another route.
Escape to Egypt
13 When the magi had departed, an angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” 14 Joseph got up and, during the night, took the child and his mother to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod died. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: I have called my son out of Egypt.[b]
Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Jesus/The Rest of the Story
Today we come to hear the rest of the story. Last week was Christmas Eve, and we left Mary and Joseph in the manger with baby Jesus. God’s love came down at Christmas! But we have a few more sightings of Joseph – there are a few more things to learn from his faith. Today both Luke and Matthew talk about Jesus’s first few weeks of life. Luke tells us about Jesus’s circumcision, dedication and naming. And we hear the story of the magi and the holy family’s flight to Egypt in Matthew.
Now if you’re reading along in Adam Hamilton’s book, he fills in a lot of detail for us about these stories – it’s a great chapter. And I want to share a few of those details with you today. These two passages actually contain a big portion of what we know about the childhood of Jesus – we don’t know very much at all about the younger years of Jesus since the Gospels focus on only the last few years of Jesus’ life.
So let’s look at the Luke passage first. We read there that Jesus’s parents circumcised him and gave him the name Jesus – the name the angel had given Joseph in the dream. But why all these rituals? Why circumcision and going to the temple? Why pigeons? Well, we know from the Old Testament that God had commanded Abraham and his descendants to be circumcised as a symbol of a covenant between God and Abraham’s people. If you are reading the whole Bible in 2018, you’ll be reading about this in Genesis 17. And in circumcising Jesus, Mary and Joseph were following the directions in Leviticus 12 – another book we will be reading in 2018! Leviticus 12 says that on the eighth day after birth, male children were to be circumcised. And at this same time, Jesus was given his name. Christians who practice infant baptism have the same type of thing right? In infant baptism the child, through the child’s parents, enters into a covenant with God, and the child is given his or her name.
We also read about ritual cleansing and Jesus’s presentation at the temple. Luke says:
When the time came for their ritual cleansing, in accordance with the Law from Moses, they brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord. (23 It’s written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord.”)
Under Jewish law women who gave birth to boys were ceremonially unclean for 40 days after child birth, and so the ritual cleansing and Jesus’s dedication at the temple would have happened after that period – 40 days later. And Mary and Joseph offered a pair of turtledoves or pigeons as a purification offering to God. If you want to look for the Old Testament description, Leviticus 12:8 describes the offering – and it’s interesting to know that the sacrifice of a pigeon or turtle doves was allowed for a family who couldn’t afford a lamb. So again we have another reminder that the King of Kings had been born into a family who was ordinary — without money or the means to afford a lamb as an offering to God.
We can notice some things about Joseph from the circumcision, naming and presentation of Jesus at the temple. One thing is that Joseph was dedicated in his faith. He honored the traditions of Judaism and wanted to bring his son up in ways that would help Jesus learn about God – in ways where Jesus would be part of the covenant community—and so that Jesus could draw closer to God. We can also see, as we have seen before with Joseph, that Joseph was obedient – he named Jesus “Jesus” just as the angel had spelled out. He seemed to have trusted God even down to the name he would give his son. Joseph was a faithful man.
You may a mentor in your life who has been faithful to God and provides you with an amazing example. My Dad is one of those people. He is a very faithful man who is dedicated to God. He always made sure all five of us kids made it to church every Sunday. Although I would have preferred to sleep in, now I really appreciate this example of faith. Periodically, we would travel and all sleep in the same hotel room. And I’ll never forgetting waking up to the sight of my father with his prayer book – saying his prayers every morning while it was still dark. A few weeks ago, my son Mark’s football team was playing in a big game, and I happened to ask my dad to say a prayer for Mark – not for a win – because I think God’s not too interested in our winning or losing games. But I asked Dad if he would pray that Mark would make wise decisions for the kids. And Dad said, I have prayed for Christopher Mark every day since the day he was born. Of course, I will pray for him. I had no idea that he prayed daily for his family! What an example of quiet faith. Faith that trusts. Faith that acts day after day. Faith that perseveres and persists and draws near to God as a discipline. That kind of example is a gift. I am thankful for all the mentors of faith we have, and I pray we can be the same for someone else. My prayer, too, is that this new year the discipline of our faith, the practicing of our faith, might transform our lives.
But there is more to learn from Joseph this day. Let’s walk through the Matthew text which is the only one to tell the story of the kings. There is a lot of interesting trivia in this passage, and since I want you to have some fun facts for your friends, I can’t resist mentioning some of these things. So one interesting piece of trivia is this: if you read the story of Matthew 2 carefully, you won’t read anywhere in there that there were three kings. You ought to go back and look at some point. It never says how many kings there were. But it does say that they brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, and so over time we have just read it into the story that there were three magi, and we have the song – We Three Kings, right? So, there must have been three.
The word magi is the root word for magician. But they weren’t magicians the way we think of that word, they were probably part of the priestly class of the religion called Zoroastrianism. They were respected advisors, scholars, and sages – they were devout believers in one God, and they were scientists of a sort – they studied stars to find signs of God’s plan for the world. And so isn’t it interesting! With Luke’s Christmas story we hear about the ordinary, hard-working shepherds at the savior’s birth. And in Matthew we have the educated and wealthy paying honor to Christ. In Luke we learn that Jesus came for the poor and lowly. In Matthew we learn that Jesus also came for the wealthy, the foreigner and even non-Jewish people. God is so amazing, and God’s word is full of so many wonderful pieces of meaning when we study and dig into it. Our Savior Jesus Christ came as a light for the world – for all of the world. For each and every one!
Sometime after the circumcision, the naming and the dedication at the temple, the magi show up. Now we typically have the magi, the three kings in our nativity scene along with the shepherds don’t we. But here’s some more trivia for you. If the magi came after the circumcision, we know it would be at least 40 days later, and scholars think it might have even been up to a year after Jesus was born. You see the Magi lived in Persia – in modern-day Iran which was a 1200-mile journey which could have taken quite some time. I have a map to show you today – because I was curious about it. This map shows the world 2,000 years ago. And we see Persia and the line going across to Bethlehem. So it would have been a long journey indeed to come half way across the known world from this foreign land.
And so the kings follow the star to Bethlehem, they enter the house and see Jesus. They fall to their knees to honor him. And they present him with gifts – gold, frankincense and myrrh. And then, the story becomes dangerous. King Herod had called the Magi in to ask them what they knew about this newborn king he had heard about. You see Herod was very paranoid, and he wanted to remain the only king, and so this report of a newborn king was very dangerous to him. Herod had already had three of his sons killed because he feared they would try to take his throne away from him. And so Herod’s solution was to kill all the children under two in Bethlehem.
The next angel who appears to Joseph is life-saving for the holy family. The angel of the Lord appears to Joseph in a dream and says, “Get up. Take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod will soon search for the child in order to kill him.” Joseph got up during the night, and took his family to Egypt. Here is the long route to Egypt. The holy family again was making a difficult journey – but this time they were running for their lives.
Joseph once again trusted and obeyed the angel of the Lord, and it probably saved the life of Jesus. He didn’t ask questions, he didn’t pack first. He simply did what he had to for his family, trusting that God would take care of their needs and thankful for the valuable gifts the Magi had brought which could be used to help them survive on the run.
And Joseph, Mary and Jesus lived as refugees in Egypt for some time before it was safe to return home after Herod’s death.
There is one other scripture where we see Joseph – when Jesus is 12 years old, and they lose him while he is at the temple. It’s a great story – if you read all of Luke chapter 2, you will see it there at the end. Other than the story of 12 year old Jesus, we never hear from Joseph again. It’s believed that Joseph died sometime during Jesus’ childhood or teen years.
Joseph never has a speaking role in scripture, and apparently he wasn’t even around to witness Jesus’s ministry. Joseph didn’t have a starring role. He didn’t get much attention. But nevertheless, we have learned a lot about faith by looking at the Christmas story through Joseph’s eyes.
We know that Joseph was a carpenter and a father. We’ve imagined that he would have been patient, creative, persistent, hard-working. Based on the kind of person Jesus was, we think he was probably kind and loving, and we believe he taught Jesus about grace – unconditional love. Because after all, Joseph was raising a child not his own. We’ve considered the compassion, forgiveness and humility it would have required for Joseph to take Mary as his wife when she was believed to be an adulteress.
We’ve seen a faith that never gave up-through hard journeys with a nine-month pregnant wife, child birth in a barn and living as a refugee in a foreign land. But more than anything, in Joseph we see a person who works quietly behind the scenes doing God’s work. And the work that Joseph did, while not glamorous or attention getting was vital for God’s overall purpose. Without Joseph’s love, hard work, compassion, willingness to do anything for his family and faith in God – there is no telling how God’s purposes would have been thwarted.
More than anything, though, we have learned that God was with Joseph through it all. We know that God showed up in some miraculous ways, but God also must have shown up in Joseph’s life in some very ordinary ways. And you know – that’s how it is for us. God pours out amazing miracles upon us every day – every day the sun rises and every day babies are born! But God is there in the trivia of our lives, too. God is there as we go about the disciplines of daily prayer, scripture reading and worship. God is there when we are forced to go on difficult journeys. God is there whether we are serving God behind the scenes in ways that might go unnoticed or whether God calls us to step into the spotlight. Perhaps the lesson we can learn from Joseph is that humble obedience is what God requires of us all because God is here. Hear the word of the Lord:
An angel from the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” 22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:
23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
And they will call him, Emmanuel (God with us).[a]
24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded.
Let us pray. Emmanuel, God with us, we fall on our knees and honor you. It’s hard for us to comprehend that you are here! It’s hard for us to listen to your voice and obey. So, open our ears, fill or hearts, and inspire us to action in big ways this year. May we do just as you command. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.