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I remember my Mum, who is now 81, telling me when I was a child, that she had been expected to go to the chapel to ‘be churched’ after both my sister and I were born and of course this seemed like a very strange thing to have to do back then. I didn’t understand what she meant at all, it all seemed rather strange. Reading today’s passage in Luke we can see that it is indeed a very old tradition for women to be expected to go to their temple or church to be ritually cleansed after giving birth to a child, a tradition that is no longer or very rarely observed.

The second reason Mary and Joseph had to visit the temple was to present Jesus to the Rabbi. Now, this is also an ancient convention that they were fulfilling.

Here is Jesus. The first born to Mary and Joseph, who make a blood and a burnt offering of two birds, probably signifying that they were poor, as it wasn’t a lamb or other expensive animal. They appear a very normal Jewish family going about their daily life like thousands of others. But they are very different.

Mary and Joseph, are then faced with Simeon. In all the art created of this moment Simeon is usually portrayed as an old man, but nowhere can I find mention of his age, unlike Anna, who the passage tells us ‘was of a great age’. For all we know, Simeon could have been a young man, which makes his declaration that his life is now complete even more staggering.What does he say Jesus will do? Jesus will be the salvation of all peoples, a light for the gentiles. Jesus is only 40 days old and already his ministry to all has been identified by Simeon, who it says was being guided by the Holy Spirit.

Can we stop and think for a moment about how Mary would have felt when Simeon told her that her precious little baby was destined to cause the fall and rise of many and that everything he represents will be opposed, which will reveal peoples inner thoughts and that a sword will pierce her own heart too? It is the word: too – that makes you think, I wonder what Mary thought about her own death? We know that Mary knew who Jesus was destined to be, and I’m also wondering whether she would have preferred in that moment to just be like any other mother presenting her baby to the temple, rather than being reminded about the life Jesus was going to have and the end he was going to meet?

We think about all that has happened to Mary, Joseph and Jesus thus far, and it has all been about experiences – travelling to Bethlehem, Angels and Shepherds, and now Simeon turns us resolutely to the Cross, and of course for us, as we have Lent approaching, our minds will also be turning away from the Christmas season and all those experiences, to the reality of the cross.

What do Mary and Joseph do after this tumultuous experience? They head back to Nazareth and become a normal family again, well at least for around thirty years that is, until Jesus steps into his purpose, where all are cleansed and all are redeemed.

Questions:

  1. If you were at a Baptism for a family that attend your church, what message of hope could you give them about their child?
  2. How could you, in whatever way, share this message with everyone?
  3. Who do you identify with most in this story and why?