After the Birth

Luke's Gospel records the circumcision of Jesus on the eighth day after his birth, most likely in Bethlehem while Mary was recovering from her delivery, and before the wise men had come to worship him as recorded in Matthew. In Jewish tradition, male children were named at circumcision, and Luke reports that at Jesus' circumcision “his name was called JESUS, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21).

discussion question

What is the “purification” that Mary had to undergo after the birth?

It was a Jewish tradition required of mothers after giving birth. Experts say the purification required Mary to stay indoors for forty days, and when it was accomplished, she was then able to make the five-mile walk (or ride by donkey) from Bethlehem to the Temple in Jerusalem for the presentation.

And without referring to the wise men; the threat of Herod and the infanticide he commanded; or the flight of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus into Egypt, in the very next verse (2:22) Luke begins the story of Jesus' presentation in the Temple in Jerusalem. The Magi might have arrived to worship Jesus just before the family journeyed to Jerusalem for the presentation, though this doesn't accord with the traditional (but arbitrary) dating of the Epiphany (as mentioned previously, an early Christian feast commemorating the worship of Jesus by the Wise Men, and Jesus' baptism) only twelve days after the Nativity.

If the Magi's adoration was only a short time before the presentation, by the time Herod realized the Magi had given him the slip, he was looking for newborns in the area of Bethlehem, but Jesus may have already been in Jerusalem. It may have been there that Joseph received the angel's warning to hide out in Egypt.

symbolism

Circumcision was widely practiced as a religious ritual in biblical times, including by the ancient Egyptians, as documented in artworks dating more than two thousand years B.C. Circumcision was given to Abraham as the sign and symbol of the covenant between him and his descendants with God (Genesis 17:1), and is still practiced as a religious requirement by the Jewish people.

The Presentation

Jesus' presentation, accompanied by a sacrifice of turtledoves or pigeons, as was traditional, was marked by the appearance of a devout man named Simeon who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would live to see the Messiah. And Luke says Simeon took Jesus “up in his arms, and blessed God, and said, Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel” (Luke 2:28–31).

Simeon's speech prophesies both the reason Jesus came into the world (as the expected Messiah) and his passion (suffering) and death, which Simeon describes as piercing Mary's heart (Luke 2:35). This “Canticle of Simeon” (or the Nunc Dimittis, as it is called in the Roman Catholic Church, based on the first two words of the verse in Latin) was a prayer sung in the liturgies of the ancient church. It is still used in the regular evening services (vespers) of Eastern Orthodox Christians.

The Prophetess Anna

Luke's story of the presentation also includes a “prophetess,” Anna, who had been a widow most of her life, and had been living in the Temple, praying and fasting and, like Simeon, waiting faithfully for the Messiah. “And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem” (Luke 2:38).

discussion question

What is the synoptic problem?

It is a theological term for the seeming discrepancies among the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. For example, Matthew records the visit of the Magi and Luke records the shepherds and angels coming to the stable, but each Gospel omits the opposite accounts.

Flight into Egypt

St. Matthew continues his parallel narrative after the Magi worshipped the baby Jesus (see Matthew 2:12–18). Angels directed the Magi not to return to Herod on their way back home, and also told Joseph to flee from Israel into Egypt to escape Herod's plot to thwart any challenge of his rule over Israel by an alleged newborn king, by having all baby boys under age two killed.

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