29 December 2017
A challenge of our familiarity with the characters in the Bible is that we know what will happen. We know that Mary will grow to know her son as He grows, she will travel with Him, experience the agony of the Cross, the astonishment of the Resurrection and, according to Tradition will spend many years in contemplation of the life of her son before the Assumption.
But this was in her future. Mary and Joseph have separately been visited by Angels and have faithfully assented and complied, they have seen miraculous signs at Jesus’ birth but how much did they understand? They were new parents, and at least Mary was almost certainly a teenager. Through all the wonders, they are trying to be observant Jews, and so they take their son to fulfill the Temple requirements. Perhaps this was an odd moment of certainty and anonymity for them.
Again, their foundations are shaken. Out of the crowd at the Temple an elderly man, Simeon bursts into their privacy:
“Now, Master, you can let your servant go in peace…because “my eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared for all the nations and the glory of your people Israel.”
Joseph and Mary (unsurprisingly) stood there wondering at this answer to prophecy and the spotlight falls on Mary: “You see this child: He is destined for the fall and the rising of many in Israel” however Simeon seems to contradict himself: Jesus will be “destined to be a sign that is rejected.”
Undoubtedly by now Mary and Joseph must be reeling, trying to absorb what all this can mean. Then the challenge goes up another notch; “and a sword will pierce your soul also.”
Picture the couple trying to make sense of all this. What does having one’s soul pierced mean? And why Mary but not Joseph? Tomorrow’s reading follows on with Anna similarly prophesying.
And then, suddenly in Luke’s account, the drama is over, and Mary and Joseph complete the requirements of the Law and go to Nazareth to raise their son. As far as scripture is concerned, nothing of note will happen until Jesus is again presented in the Temple.
So when the work of God in and around us seems incomprehensible – when occasional deep spiritual revelation and challenge are interspersed with long periods of seeming inactivity – take heart, others have been there before us.