Monday, February 2nd, 2009
“Consecrate to me every first-born that opens the womb among the Israelites,
both of man and beast, for it belongs to me.” (Exodus 13:1)
In Chapter 2 of his Letter to the Philippians, St. Paul describes the humility shown by Christ in the great downward leap he took from heaven into his creation. This downward movement shaped the whole of Christ’s earthly life, too. Though remaining sinless himself, Christ on earth fell continually deeper into the miseries of the fallen human condition. And not by accident.
At his conception, Christ entered time. At his birth, he entered a nation. In the Temple, he inherited the covenant. And downward he continued. Among the crowds, Christ challenged sin. Among the sick, he confronted disease. Among the learned, he corrected error. And downward he continued. Among his friends, Christ was betrayed. By the religious authorities, he was sentenced to death. By the state, he was killed, flanked by thieves.
At every downward turn, Christ deliberately united himself to sinful man, as a doctor to his patient. Even as a baby, Christ was working to redeem the world and atone for sin. There are many mysteries associated with his presentation in the Temple, but chief among them is that Christ first shed his precious blood during his circumcision. This act was not redemptive for him, for as the redeemer he needed no redemption. Instead, this early bloodshed was for us, at least in its prefiguration of the cross.
St. Thomas Aquinas explains the connection between Christ’s circumcision and his passion this way:
As Christ voluntarily took upon Himself our death, which is the effect of sin, whereas He had no sin Himself, in order to deliver us from death, and to make us to die spiritually unto sin, so also He took upon Himself circumcision, which was a remedy against original sin, whereas He contracted no original sin, in order to deliver us from the yoke of the Law, and to accomplish a spiritual circumcision in us–in order, that is to say, that, by taking upon Himself the shadow, He might accomplish the reality. (ST.III.37.ad3)
Today we stand with Mary and Joseph in the Temple, and we repeat the words of holy Simeon: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations, and the glory of your people Israel” (Luke 2:29-32).
Christ your Son became man for us
and was presented in the temple.
May he free our hearts from sin
and bring us into your presence.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.