21After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. 22When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
At eight days, Joseph and Mary and the officials of the synagogue – I assume they were still in Bethlehem at this time – held the circumcision ceremony and named the child. Luke is the only Gospel writer to include this detail; why is it important to Luke? As the story has played back and forth between the birth of John and the birth of Jesus, this parallels the much longer story of John’s day for circumcision, when the miracle of his birth becomes obvious. But Luke does not go into great detail on Jesus’ circumcision; he will have more to say about the child at the temple. In including the circumcision, however, Luke is anchoring the Gospel story into the story of Israel – Jesus is not just an out of the blue occurrence; he is the fulfillment of all that has gone before, the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Circumcision marked Jews as God’s people, in accordance with the Mosaic Law. Here, there is also fulfillment of the angel’s announcement to Mary – “You shall name him Jesus.” Luke often uses a prophecy / fulfillment method in his narrative to emphasize the connection.
It was a few weeks later that they took the child to the temple. There were two rituals – the “redemption” of a first-born child, who belonged to God and was redeemed by offering a sacrifice at the temple; and the purification of the mother, who must undergo a purification ritual after having given birth (which made her unclean) before re-entering society. Luke speaks of the purification of the mother, but not of the redemption of the first-born, which required a payment of 5 shekels. Since Luke tells us that the little family did everything according to the law, might we think that perhaps they dedicated this child to God, rather than redeeming him from God? The precedent in the Bible is the story of Samuel.
There is an offering required on the occasion of the mother’s purification – the required offering is a lamb and a dove or pigeon. But there is an exception for the poor; those who cannot afford a lamb may bring two pigeons or doves. Again, Luke aligns Christ with the poor; his family cannot even afford the sacrifice of a lamb, but must bring the poor man’s gift.