Today is the day that many Christians remember and honor the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, or the event in scripture when Mary and Joseph brought the infant Jesus to the Temple. This event would have been to complete the purification of Mary and to offer the child to God in their obedience to the laws of Moses.
When I reflect on this event, I think about Mother Mary, scraping up enough money to buy two turtle doves, the sacrifice required to bring with them.
Was she still sore from childbirth?
Did she feel like a mother yet?
Was the baby sleeping at all?
Did she have help?
When my husband and I traveled home for my father-in-law’s funeral when our firstborn was just six weeks old (about the same age as Jesus was during his presentation in the temple), I did not know how to fold up our stroller. I relied on TSA agents at the airport to help me figure everything out. And yet, everywhere we went, strangers complimented me on our baby. I didn’t know what to wear, but I knew I was completely in love with my baby. Time took on a warped quality, where I knew exactly how many weeks and days old my baby was, but I couldn’t have told you the day of the week or the season of the year. Friends and family fed us, but I was solely responsible for feeding this new life. How did Mary feel as she ascended the steps to the temple?
My friend Jenny Schroedel, an Orthodox Christian, wrote a beautiful reflection about her first six weeks with her baby as she followed the Orthodox tradition of “nesting in” with her baby. She describes the holiness of the 40-day-period following a baby’s birth. There are echoes of this in other aspects of Christian life: the 40 days of Lent and the 40 days and nights of rain of the Great Flood. Most pregnancies last about 40 weeks, and so 40 days does not seem like too long of a time to let a mother’s body recover. I wonder if Mary felt the same time-warped feeling that many of us do as she adjusted to life as a mother.
What makes the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple even more notable in Christian life, to me, is what the Holy Family found once they arrived. Simeon, a “righteous and devout” man, according to the Gospel of Luke, had been waiting for the salvation of Israel. Christians remember his words in the canticle “Nunc Dimittis,” which means “Now You Dismiss:”
A Light to enlighten the nations,
and the glory of your people Israel.
Simeon knew, when he saw the infant Jesus, that what he had hoped for, prayed for, waited for, had come. Mother Mary may have been wondering if the shepherds and the wise men were all part of a postpartum haze, but here they were, re-entering public life as a family, and a prophet is waiting for them to affirm everything they had been told. I imagine Simeon, who waited for a sign from God, and found it in an infant.
In the Episcopal Church, we often repeat Simeon’s words during Evening Prayer and Compline, liturgies that can be said at the end of any day. It reminds us of the many who waited their entire lives for the good news of Jesus, a “light to enlighten the nations.” For those of us who are waiting, for those of us who feel like we are in a timeless haze, and for those of us who need to be reminded of the enormous good news of Jesus, this event helps us mark time in the life of Jesus and in the life of the Church for which we can be grateful.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]