St. Paul describes the Church as one body with many members (1 Cor 12:12). One body, but diverse parts. Take a look around. Our congregation is filled with people of different ages, different interests, different talents, and different opinions. I think there might even be a Packers fan or two in here! But let’s not go there…
This is okay. The Church is, after all, one Body with many members. You need the various parts for the body to work properly. This is one reason your participation in the life of the church has an impact not only on your own spiritual health, but also on your other brothers and sisters in Christ. The body doesn’t function well when parts are missing.
The various parts of the body also need to work together. One problem with being different is that we often find ourselves in competition. We want to be the most important part of the body, the best, the smartest, the prettiest, the wealthiest, you name it. We like to have the advantage.
Firstborns often have the advantage over their younger siblings. As the oldest of three boys, I often made use of those advantages. Oh, the stories my younger brothers could tell you! But this is not good. This is what Adam & Eve’s firstborn son Cain sought—his own glory & advantage—along with Ishmael and Esau. Lucifer was the chief of the angels. God called Israel His firstborn son (Ex 4:22), and eventually Israel took that to mean they were better than everyone else (cf. Amos 3:1—2). But as Proverbs 16:18 says, Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
Which brings us to today’s Holy Gospel, which tells us that Mary and had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord (Luke 2:39). Part of the fulfillment of the Law stipulated the presentation of every firstborn to the Lord (Ex 13:2, 12) as a reminder of how God delivered Israel from Egypt during the Passover.
What’s odd here is that Jesus is the temple in human flesh, the faithful firstborn who had no need of redemption. He did nothing out of rivalry or conceit, and was as humble a firstborn as who ever lived!
Clearly, Jesus wasn’t presented in the temple for His own benefit; He did this for you. It’s the same with His incarnation and baptism, His suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. All He did, He did for you. He presents Himself to the Lord as if He were any other sinful firstborn, so that He might present you to His heavenly Father as His blameless child.
Our Lord every advantage that there is to be had, but instead, though He was in the form of God, He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a Servant (Philippians 2:6—7). Jesus never sought His own glory or advantage, and likewise calls you to humble servanthood. As He told His disciples:
And he said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you. Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. For who is the greater, one who reclines at table or one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at table? But I am among you as the one who serves (Luke 22:25-27).
Again and again our Lord teaches that the greatest in His kingdom are the least; the first will be last, the last first.
For all you’ve done to seek your own glory, God has set His love on you anyway. As he told Israel: It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples (Deut 7:7). Far from choosing the irresistible, God chooses the last, the lost, and the least. Psalm 113:7 says, He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap.
As St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God (1 Cor 1:26-29).
Despite our differences in birth order, genetics, appearance, education, wealth, you name it, we are all equal in God’s eyes. Equally as sinful and equally as redeemed. There are no “better” or “worse” Christians. You aren’t made into a child of God by anything you do for God, but by what God does for you. He has made you into His child at the font. When God looks at you, He regards you as equal to Christ in glory. As St. Paul says in Galatians 3:26:
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (v. 26–28).
We may have differences in the world, but we’re all equal in Christ’s kingdom. By His presentation to the Lord, in the temple and finally on the cross, Jesus purifies you from all sin that He might present you to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that you might be holy and without blemish (Eph 5:27). What marvelous love, that Jesus presented Himself to God as a sinner that He might present you to Himself in splendor!
Soli Deo Gloria