It is time.
Mary and Joseph have counted the days, and now it is time to redeem Mary’s first-born Son at the Temple. The Child is 30 days old, and it’s time to perform the Pidyan Haben. The Lord’s plan was that every firstborn son would be a priest, but the worshipping of the golden calf had changed that. Only the Levites were priests now, and every other tribe would go through this ritual of having their firstborn sons relieved of the priestly duty. Mary and Joseph have packed some food and water for the journey, and they set off on foot to Jerusalem from their small home in Bethlehem. After the excitement of the census, they were able to find a place to settle down. It was small, but it had room for Joseph to work. Right now, though, it isn’t time to work. Right now it’s time to present Jesus at the Temple and redeem Him from the priesthood with a small sacrifice. With the ceremony, they will also dedicate Him to God, acknowledging that He truly belongs to the Lord.
“Do you have the money for the turtledoves?” Mary asks Joseph. Since they left Nazareth, he hadn’t been able to work, and they’d only just found their new home before it was time to go to Jerusalem.
Joseph smiles at Mary and rubs her back. “Yes. I have it here. Let’s go.” And with that, they start their 7-mile walk. It’s early in the day, and the small family sets out at a moderate pace. As they travel, they sing Psalms, praising the Lord, the Father of the Child they carry in their arms.
Joseph’s clear, strong voice rings out, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord?/ And Who shall stand in His holy place? / He who has clean hands and a pure heart, /who does not lift up his soul to what is false, / and does not swear deceitfully. / He will receive blessing from the Lord, / and vindication from the God of his salvation. / Such is the generation of those who seek him, / who seek the face of the God of Jacob.”
Mary looks at her son and smiles into the face of the God of Jacob as she answers, “Lift up your heads, O gates! / and be lifted up, O ancient doors! / that the King of glory may come in!” Her heart soars with the knowledge that the King of glory will enter the Temple today.
Now Joseph sings, “Who is the King of glory? / The Lord, strong and mighty, / the Lord, mighty in battle!” He smiles at his wife, and feels a surging of joy in his heart over the tiny baby in her arms.
“Lift up your heads, O gates! / and be lifted up, O ancient doors! / that the King of glory may come in!” Mary sings again, and looks back at Joseph, waiting for him to finish the Psalm.
“Who is this King of glory?” he sings, “The Lord of hosts, / He is the King of glory!”
By this time, they have met more people on the road, headed to the Holy City.
Other families carry their own sons for dedication, and Mary and Joseph chat with them on the way. They congratulate each other and talk of their children: How many children do you have? How old are the other children? What have you named your son? Before they know it, they are approaching the Temple. People begin to sing again and Mary and Joseph join their Psalm:
“Let us go to the house of the Lord!”
Our feet have been standing
within your gates, O Jerusalem!
Jerusalem, built as a city
which is bound firmly together,
to which the tribes go up,
the tribes of the Lord,
as was decreed for Israel,
to give thanks to the name of the Lord.”
As they approach the Temple, Mary and Joseph pause for a moment, gazing up at the beautiful house built for God. Joseph puts his arm around Mary’s shoulders and gently squeezes her arm. “Here we are,” he whispers. “Are you ready?” Mary nods silently, still looking at the steps and columns of the Temple. Together, they begin their ascent to where they will redeem their child from the Lord and Mary will perform the rituals of purification. Suddenly, an old man walks directly towards them, arms outstretched. He looks at them as if he knows them, but Mary and Joseph have no idea who he is. He stops directly in front of Mary and stares intently at her son. The joy on his face is so intense that Joseph feels no fear for his wife and the baby.
The man’s eyes well up with tears, and he looks at Mary. “May I…?” he starts, holding his hands out to take the child from her arms. Something inside of her tells Mary that this is all right. Gently, she places her son into the man’s arms. The tears overflow and fall down his cheeks and past his enormous grin. “He is here! It is Him!” He kisses the tiny face, then laughs. He looks at Mary and Joseph, as if he’s suddenly aware of them again. “Forgive me! My name is Simeon. In my excitement I forgot to introduce myself.”
Joseph looks at Simeon and smiles. In his heart, God is telling him that Simeon is a friend — that he knows exactly Who this baby is. As Simeon rocks the child and coos at him, Joseph hears a couple of men behind him. “That’s Simeon the Righteous. Could those be relatives of his? Simeon seems to know them…”
Still holding Jesus, Simeon gazes toward heaven and says, “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel!”
Mary looks at Simeon in wonder and amazement. God has revealed the true identity of Jesus to him! She feels blessed to be in the presence of someone so holy. Joseph, too, smiles in utter surprise, and he wonders to himself how many people know what’s happening here between these four people. Most of the crowd in the busy Temple buzzes around them without any clue what Simeon is saying. A few people have stopped, though, and are looking at Mary and Jesus, trying to see who Simeon is speaking about.
Simeon is oblivious to them, though, as he places Jesus back in His mother’s arms, blesses the family, and then says to her in a serious tone, “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against — and a sword will pierce through your own soul, also — that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” Joseph is startled by this, as is Mary, but she recovers more quickly than he does.
“Thank you. The Lord bless you and keep you,” she answers with a smile. Though she is troubled a bit by this message, she knows that God will protect her and care for her family. Before she can move another step, though, a woman steps out of the crowd and towards the four of them. Simeon turns and smiles at her broadly, gesturing to the baby.
“This is Anna,” he says, turning to Mary and Joseph. “She is a widow these 77 years — a holy woman. She lives here, fasting and praying for all of God’s people.”
Anna gazes at Jesus with tenderness in her eyes, and looks up at His parents. “This is the Christ! He is the Promised One!” she says. “Oh, thank You Lord, that I have lived to see this day! You have sent our redemption to us!” She looks again at Jesus, then turns to go. She seems to practically float away, and as she leaves, Mary and Joseph can hear her telling people that the Christ had come. “Praise the Lord! Bless His holy name! Give thanks to Him! He has sent the redemption of Jerusalem!”
“Joseph,” Mary whispers, “we’ve come to redeem our Son, but He will redeem us in the end. Thanks be to our Lord!” They walk to the merchant to purchase their turtledoves, and together they walk into the Temple to dedicate Jesus to His Father.
What can Mary teach us through this Mystery?
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Text and images © 2017, Christine Johnson