The Law of Moses required that a male child be circumcised on the eighth day and so Mary and Joseph left Bethlehem and traveled the few miles to Jerusalem for this purpose. In fact, Luke mentions three ceremonies that were conducted in accordance with the custom of that time: Circumcision for the baby, the purification of his mother, and the baby’s dedication to the Lord as their firstborn male child. While it is important to the larger narrative that these ceremonies were completed properly, the real story here is that of Simeon and Anna.
Both were in their old age, both were upright and righteous people, and both were eagerly looking forward to the coming of Messiah and God’s deliverance of His people. As Luke tells us, Simeon had received God’s promise that he would not die before seeing the Messiah, and that promise is fulfilled here.
Simeon tells Mary and Joseph some interesting things as the Spirit came upon him…
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.” (2:29-32)
Mary and Joseph marveled at this, but Simeon wasn’t quite finished:
“This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (2:34b-35)
It’s one thing to hear praise for a newborn, but I would imagine that hearing this was quite a different matter, yet as we know, it came to pass. As this was being said, Anna the prophet was nearby giving thanks to God for the appearance of His Son in Jerusalem.
The scene ends with Mary and Joseph returning to Nazareth with the child, who would grow in strength and wisdom…
Notice that they did not return to Bethlehem as so many stories, pictures and traditions would indicate. Does this surprise you?
If you look back at the story of the Magi in Matthew 2, you will notice that after they met with Herod, the Lord guided them to the house where Jesus was, not to the manger where he was born… and Herod calculated from the time the Magi had first seen the sign to the present had had all little boys in Bethlehem murdered who were 2 and under, so it took the Magi quite some time to reach him.
Notice also that when Mary and Joseph were warned that Herod would be on the lookout for the child, they fled the country, not Bethlehem, and went to Egypt until Herod died, which wasn’t very long after that according to secular history.
That’s right dear reader, all of those pictures and plays and carols… are simply wrong.