Q: I just returned from the Holy Land–it was a wonderful trip, very enlightening. Now that I am more aware of the topography of the land and the distance between the various towns, villages and cities, I have a question that concerns today’s Feast of the Presentation.
The gospel says, now that they have completed the days of purification, Mary and Joseph took Jesus to Jerusalem to the temple…….
First, going back to his birth we know he was born in Bethlehem.
Second, we are told that the angel appeared to Joseph and then they fled Bethlehem and went to Egypt where they stayed for a few years (??) before returning to Nazareth.
So, my question/clarification is: Is the ‘period of purification’ 40 days? If so then the story implies that after 40 days Mary and Joseph went from Bethlehem to Jerusalem. If this is true than there seems to be some contradiction. So, when did the event of today’s feast take place in the life of Jesus?
A: The biblical evidence of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus is troublesome. The flight into Egypt is recorded only in Matthew. The presentation in the temple is recorded only in Luke. Neither of them probably had access to the other’s data. Raymond Brown (who was tour guide on one of my trips to the Holy Land!) wrote in The Birth of the Messiah that “a journey to Egypt is quite irreconcilable with Luke’s account of an orderly and uneventful return from Bethlehem to Nazareth shortly after the birth of the child.” It is more likely that whatever history lies behind these events got recorded in a way to proclaim theological principles of fulfillments of prophecies and the centrality of the temple. In short, there’s more theology than history in there.
Regarding the liturgy, the Feb 2 feast is linked to Luke’s account of the events that took place 40 days after Jesus was born. Since we celebrate his birth on Dec 25, we count up 40 days and do the presentation on Feb 2.