Recently, I had such an experience. My daughter had just awoken from a nap, and I quickly ascended the stairs to get her with all intention of bringing her back down to the living room, where I was working. When I entered her room, I noticed that she was more upset than normal, which is saying quite a lot. So, I picked her up out of her crib and decided, against habit, to just nurse her “real quick.” Within a couple of seconds, she had fallen back asleep and there I was, unable to move from where I was sitting because she does not transition well.
I didn’t have my phone, my tab was out of reach and employed in playing her sleepy-time classical music play list, and my computer was downstairs. So, it was just me and her. The only thing that was with in toe’s reach on the bed was my Bible—I had no idea how long I’d be sitting in this spot so, I figured, why not read it. I opened up the book and began reading where I had left off reading to Liza prior to putting her down for a nap: Leviticus.
Leviticus is an interesting book. It is, from beginning to end, a book about the law. There is one story in it, but it’s brief, and becomes a platform for a law. Leviticus covers the importance of ritual purity, cleanness and uncleanness, what to do if you come in contact with something/someone unclean and how to become clean again. It also details every nuance of each type of sacrifice to be offered: when, where, who, and how. It puts forth laws around familial and friendly relationships—who can know who (!)—personal hygiene and biological matters. The law is so comprehensive that it descends to the levels of the ownership of animals and what to do if one of your animals strikes out against another’s animals.
About halfway through the book, I could tangibly feel heaviness in my heart and in the bones of my body, contemplating how hard it would be to keep each and every one of these laws and performing all the necessary washings and sacrifices to be clean. Considering the depths and brokenness of humanity, I found myself becoming appalled at the amount of animal bloodshed there would be—surely the priests would be sacrificing day and night.
God’s holiness and the subsequent demand for human purity (being untainted by sin) was so prominent, that I could feel my heart becoming overwhelmed with the notions of both. I found myself wondering if I was an Israelite, would I cloak as many of my transgressions as possible to keep some of my livestock around, would I really admit to all of my transgressions? I could see myself looking the other way if I noticed that my clay vessel had touched something unclean, because I just didn’t want to break another one.
I wondered about the crowd, those who had said earlier in Exodus, “All this we will do!” and I wondered if there was just one person there shaking their head, thinking are we hearing this correctly? Who then can be saved? The more I read Leviticus, the more it became apparent to me that the law could not bring life, but only death and exhaustion, hiding and falsehood, fear and trembling. Who could honestly withstand doing all of this? Who can maintain that level of purity every second of every minute, every minute of every hour, every hour of every day, every day of every year, of every year of one’s life?
But that afternoon, as I sat there holding my sleeping daughter, doing nothing else but just sitting, waiting for her to wake up and reading Leviticus, I was pleasantly surprised by hope as I read Chapter 12.
Here’s what I read:
The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her monthly period, she shall be unclean. And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. Then she shall continue for thirty-three days in the blood of her purifying. She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed. But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her monthly period. And she shall continue in the blood of her purifying for sixty-six days.
“And when the days of her purifying are completed, whether for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the entrance of the tent of meeting a lamb a year old for a burnt offering, and a pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering, and he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her. Then she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, either male or female. And if she cannot afford a lamb, then she shall take two turtledoves or two pigeons, one for a burnt offering and the other for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for her, and she shall be clean.” Leviticus 12:1-8
Sometimes an infant can bring you rest.
The Lutheran Study Bible, one of my favorite study bibles, writes this in its note about Leviticus 12: “Childbirth made a woman ceremonially unclean. These rules would exempt the new mother from the rigors of the Law and her typical role in family/community life. They also promised cleansing and restoration. In these ways, the Lord acts mercifully toward His daughters,” (182). This note is mostly true. I was currently experiencing a reprieve from the demands from the laundry and dishes, editing student papers, fielding student questions, my phone wasn’t with me so I couldn’t reply to emails, I couldn’t work on sermons/talks, nor could I read for my dissertation. I was, at that moment, freed to physically rest. The note is partially correct.
But what the note missed or addressed casually was the very thing that brought hope to me that cold and gray afternoon, “If a woman conceives and bears a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days. As at the time of her monthly period, she shall be unclean…She shall not touch anything holy, nor come into the sanctuary, until the days of her purifying are completed.” A woman, who had given birth, was forbidden from touching anything holy, forbidden from going into the sanctuary (being in God’s presence). But then…Mary. After Jesus’ birth, Mary was unclean. She may have been free from the performing of certain obligations of the law that encompassed her daily life, but she was not now free from the law. The thing that was segregating her from her community, the thing that determined that she was unclean was the law and it was still very much active; Mary was still under the judgment of the law—there was no reprieve. She was determined, by the law, to be unclean.
Yet—and here is the striking point, the very thing that jumped out at me from that very page—Mary had given birth and was subsequently holding and nursing Jesus for the full duration of her uncleanness. Very God of Very God would dwell with His mother while she was yet unclean—impure, technically unable to be in the presence of God; yet there she was: with God because He was with her, physically, in her presence and she in His. From the moment of His birth, Jesus had begun to silence the voice and demand of the law…the law was found dumb in that moment.
Though we, today, are not plagued by the purification system of Leviticus, we still suffer under the weight of law’s condemning verdict: “unclean” or “not good enough.” Under the weight of the watchful eye of the law, we will strive to self-justify, to self-validate; we will toil day in and day out trying to keep that voice of condemnation at bay; we are desperate to stay one step ahead of failure which is nipping at our heels; we hope against hope that no one has caught on to the fractures in our veneers from the pressure and the demands, that no one realizes that we are just barely keeping it together, just eking by.
Every time we miss the mark, that voice gets a little louder; failure gets a little closer. Some of us will give up from the exhaustion, some of us will keep going, pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps, and like fools we’ll sing ridiculous lyrics like, “what doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger.” Even if we do, by chance, hit the mark, we will have to keep doing it. Once isn’t enough; and only always is. The demand never stops; the law is never satisfied; the voice of condemnation all too ready to whisper: failure…work harder. In all of our toil we crave rest: rest from the tyranny of work, from the incessant demands (from others and from ourselves), from the insatiable pursuit of self-justification and self-validation (am I good enough…yet? Am I still good enough?). Our spirits long to hear: “don’t worry about this, I’ve got it.”
Jesus Christ climbed Golgotha and stretched out His arms on the cross and said just that. Using His last breath, Jesus cried out from the cross: “‘It is finished!’” (John 19:30). During Advent we remembered the long awaited inaugural event of the fulfillment of the promise of God; through Lent we remembered its completion (Gen 3:15). What began at Christmas is completed at Easter. The law’s reign began to crumble the moment Christ was born; its ability to render a verdict about who and what you are was revoked when Christ died and was raised.
The voice of the law has been gagged (once and for all) and, too, the whispers of condemnation have been silenced; the fear of failure: stilled. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Christ beckons to us—as He once did to His dear Martha—to cease our striving, our toil, our running, and to rest in Him. We can cast each and every one of our burdens on Him because it is not by works we are justified but by faith in Him alone. And in being justified by faith alone apart from works, we are given true, real, everlasting “rest.”
The burden is off our shoulders because the full weight of the law has been shouldered by Christ; we no longer have to toil to be “clean” and “pure,” or strive to be “good enough” because He has taken our burdens and given us His yoke (and it is light); He has cloaked us in His righteousness and by His presence and our union with Him by faith in Him, we are the clean, we are the righteous, apart from anything we have done and will do.
What He has declared is; those whom He has called His own are the ones He has justified and made righteous (Rom 8:30). In Him, work’s domination over us has been ceased, and put back in its proper place, under our dominion (reversal of Gen 3:17f). And when striving, toil, fear—(unrest)—rear their head (and they will) you come back and read this message about what has been done for you by Jesus and arrest them at the Cross; because it’s at the Cross where their power and voice are drowned out by Christ’s.
Being associated with His death on the Cross through our baptism, we are associated with His resurrected life and we are given a new life, recreated, a life not haunted by the voice of condemnation of the law—not my people (Hos 1:9) unlovable—but enlivened by hearing the unshakeable, concrete declaration of God through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (received by Faith)—you are MY child (Gal. 3:25-29), you are MY beloved.
Sometimes an infant will bring you rest.
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