Children are precious. We as a society value children, but parents, understandably, treasure their children. This was, perhaps, even stronger in the ancient world where children often died. At the time of Moses, and of Jesus, starvation was never very far away. The first born of livestock, sheep and cattle, were really important for survival.
When God made a covenant with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai He promised to care for them and their descendants. God also asked for trust. Part of their expression of trust in God was that, as God mandated in the covenant, “All that opens the womb is mine, all your male cattle, the firstlings of cow and sheep. The firstling of an ass you shall redeem with a lamb, or if you will not redeem it you shall break its neck. All the first-born of your sons you shall redeem.” (Exodus 34:19 – 20). As a part of covenant law, every Israelite, and the Jews were Israelites, had to take their first born son to the temple and offer a sacrifice for his redemption. That child belonged to God and the parents had to make a sacrifice to take him home and raise him.
Joseph and Mary do the same for Jesus. They are faithful Jews. There is a difference that plays out throughout the New Testament. They don’t get Him back. Christ remains the Eternal Son. When Mary and Joseph take Christ to the temple He is going to His Father’s house (Luke 2:49). This is what we hear in our first reading from Malachi, “Suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek.” (Malachi 3:1 – 4). In the Gospel Anna and Simeon (Luke 2:22 – 40) recognize the savior in the temple. God has entered into our human condition to be the sacrifice that offers you and I reconciliation with God. With the coming of Christ in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Annunciation (Luke 1:38), God is present in the world, as a person. He is here to show us what true love is, self-giving and He is still here. He is here among us in the praying community of the Church, in the Eucharist at Mass, and, when we go off track, in the great sacrament of Confession.
In the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament prophecies the coming of Christ among us, and His great sacrifice is the sign of God’s true love for us. How do we respond? We can return a sacrifice, like Joseph and Mary did in the temple. We can give our lives to that plan that God has for each of us, knowing that plan is really what will give us true fulfillment.