Imagining the story
It is February 2 of the year we name 2, and Mary's time of separation from society is drawing to a close. According to Jewish custom, she was religiously clean a week after giving birth, but thirty-three days of additional separation are required to complete purification observances, ( Eighty day s re customary after the birth of a girl.) Now that Jesus is turning forty days old, he can be brought to Jerusalem for a sacred ritual that has been celebrated by Mary's and Joseph's families for meany generations. The couple will present their son to a priest in the majestic temple, the heart of their world, and offer two birds as a living sacrifice.
In your imagination, picture yourself journeying with the family to Jerusalem, pausing on the Mount of Olives at a favorite outlook. Allow yourself to relish the heart-stopping view of the temple, the beauty of its white marble walls and tower gleaming in the sun. You can see why it is one of the architectural wonders of its day, bigger than the biggest Roman palace, longer than six New York City blocks, broader than the future basilica in Trier. Imagine you have a close-up view through modern binoculars of visitors pouring through the temple compound, marveling at the great staircase, archways, gardens, plentiful pools of water defying the desert climate. What do you feel as you ponder the magnificence of this scene? Do you wish that, like the high priest alone, you could enter the Holy of Holies where Yahweh is said to dwell?
Is it conceivable to you that the tiny baby Mary holds in her arms will one day shake this temple to its foundations by exposing corruption, questioning priestly authority, assailing the whole religious establishment for abusing the poor, for animal sacrifice, for their very concept of God? Surely now one could suspect that this innocent baby will be killed for revealing that God is love, and that the authentic temple of God lies in the human heart.
And yet, there is one person with the vision to see what lies ahead: Simeon, a living prophet, and he happens to be in the temple when you arrive with the holy family. Now a very old man, he approaches Mary. How do you imagine him: dressed in rags, bent over, with a craggy face and blazing eyes, or totally different from such and appearance? Watch as he reaches out his hands for the baby, and Mary hands Jesus to him. Simeon recites an exquisite prayer of perfect fulfillment and readiness now known as the Nuc Dimittis or "Song of Simeon," telling God that his life's purpose has been fulfilled by learning that the Messiah has come in Mary's child. How do you imagine Mary feels listening to Simeon's beautiful affirmation? Simeon echoes God's promise made on the holiest day of her life some ten months ago, when she became pregnant. Simeon's insights resound like a reaffirmation of that message for Mary to cling to should she ever need reassurance about her child's true identity.
What would you like to ask Mary, Joseph or Simeon?