The Infant Christ, Our Peace Offering

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples…” (Luke 2:29-31)                                                                        

A peace offering was sacrificed not to create peace, but it was sacrificed because the person offering the sacrifice realized God had already given an element of peace. For this reason the peace offering was a thank offering, thanking God for His creation of peace/salvation/deliverance.

To fulfill God’s statutes, the infant Jesus was brought to the temple by his parents. When the trio entered the temple, aged Simeon took the child in his arms and professed, “Lord, now You are letting Your servant depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples…” Where the word salvation is found in this quote, Luke was inspired to use not the normal word for salvation, but the Greek technical term for peace offering.[1]   Simeon, the man speaking, is a Hebrew, and to him the peace offering was as common as Sunday dinner.  Moreover he is speaking these words within the courts of the temple, the place associated with peace offerings.  Furthermore, the first statement of Simeon is that he is ready to depart in peace.  For these reasons it seems nearly certain that Simeon was intentionally referring to the Christ child as his peace offering! Even the word prepared was a sacrificial term, describing how a creature was made ready for sacrifice.  Simeon says that God Himself had prepared this peace offering not just for the Jews, but before the face of all peoples!

Already in the infant Christ we realize the element of peace, for He was predicted to be born as the Prince of Peace and at His birth the angels sang, Peace on earth, good will to men.  Even as a baby Jesus guarantees our peace, and thus He can be seen to be our peace offering. We also realize He was born to be the salvation-creating sin offering—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Of course the one-time sacrificial act of Jesus—which would comprehend the meaning behind all the kinds of temple sacrifices—would not occur until His death upon the cross. Appropriately everything—including Simeon’s words spoken over the baby Jesus at the temple—was pointing to this sacrifice upon the cross.

Of unique importance to Christ being our peace offering is the fact that the primary and final rubric for a peace offering was that worshipers were to eat it.  The animal peace offerings were cooked and eaten in a joyous meal consumed by both priests and laity.  Christ Jesus far transcends this reality pertaining to animal peace offerings, and yet there is the recognized element of eating the peace offering. Though we do not of course partake of him in a cannibalistic way, yet we are given the privilege of eating His flesh and drinking His blood in a miraculous way.  We know this happens at every celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  This is a reality that was also apparently being predicted by Simeon as He held the baby Jesus at the temple and spoke of Him as the peace offering prepared for all people. 

May we this Christmas rejoice in Jesus our peace offering whom God prepared for all people, and may we joyfully partake of His wondrous sacrifice as we join in the Holy Eucharist.                  

[1] Out of 86 times the Hebrew Old Testament specifies a peace offering, the LXX translated it 72 times by using this technical term (σωτηριοs).  Various scholars recognize Simeon’s use of this peace offering term:  E.g. Cave, The Scriptural Doctrine…, 425:  “Christ is the true peace offering:  As Simeon said, ‘Mine eyes have seen thy peace offering.’”  See also Field, The Apostolic Liturgy…, 656;   Kleinig, Leviticus, 95.