FEAR AND HOPE: MARY’S ANXIETY, OUR DILEMMA
He was the sweetest little baby! When held by his mother, he would look up at her with those big penetrating eyes and just coo! She called him “Yeshi” -- short for Yeshua which means “anointed or special one.” And he was special! Not just because he was her first born, but the manner of his conception with the song of the angel, Joseph’s dream, then her visit with Zechariah and her cousin Elizabeth, all were things that Mary reflected upon as she and Joseph trekked to the Temple in Jerusalem for the Rite of Purification.
It would feel good to be clean again under the Jewish Law. The birth pangs, the sweat of giving birth, the after birth, the conditions of the stable in spite of the fresh straw that Joseph had placed in the manger, the visits of shepherds and all the animals made the purification rite even more necessary and meaningful for her.
And although this day was special for her and Joseph, as devout members of the Jewish faith, they could not overcome their feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. The events that took place around the child’s birth -- at a crowded barn stall in the back of an Inn filled with inebriated strangers and loud merry makers, the visit by the shepherds and their strange tale of a song of joy and peace by angels, the bright star – were all so mysterious to them, raising many questions in the minds of Mary and Joseph about all the inexplicable happenings of the past year. In Mary’s heart the ponderings just kept growing and growing! The anxiety was getting heavier!
As she waited with her beloved Joseph, she quietly thanked God for this man, who had every reason to give her a bill of divorcement but, out of some unexplained grace, took her in and married her because of that strange dream he had. That event itself was a sign of hope during that travail of despair.
As the waiting continued at the Temple, she wondered how this Priest would look. He would be the Temple representative of God, ordained and consecrated to do this ritual of purification according to the Levitical Law. Would it matter if they couldn’t afford to buy a lamb to be sacrificed? Would the Priest and God accept their paltry little pigeons? All these things may have crossed Mary’s mind as they would most mothers.
Just then, the old Priest appeared. His name was Simeon and his countenance was startling! As he took the baby from Mary, his eyes gave a piercing glance at the child and then his wrinkled old face turned into a big, broad smile. The baby began to cry! Mary looked at Joseph in dismay and Joseph’s mouth fell in fear that the old Priest might drop the baby. But that didn’t happen! Instead Simeon blurted out with glee a loud song of joy which didn’t seem like any canned ritual but words that came straight from his heart as if prompted by the Spirit of God.
Simeon sang in a loud, joyous voice:
“I, your servant, can leave this earth in peace, for my eyes have seen the saving grace which you are bringing to the presence of all the people of the earth, Jews and Gentiles alike!”
Mary and Joseph stared at each other in bewilderment! Another thing for Mary to ponder!
The old priest continued in an even louder voice of song and praise, declaring that this child would cause many people to rise and fall and many in their inner hearts would either love or despise his message.
Then looking at Mary with searing eyes, he said that she too would have her soul pierced by the message and the events surrounding this child.
Mary’s joy suddenly turned to fear. Joseph felt her hand tighten in his and her body and countenance became tense. What did this all mean? Anxiety was giving way to fear as the presentation of our Lord took place.
As if that weren’t enough, when the priest Simeon handed Yeshi back to her, an old woman suddenly appeared. Her name was Anna, a prophetess, who looked even older than the priest. Someone in the small crowd whispered that she was an 84 year old widow. Anna snatched the baby from Mary’s arms and began to sing psalms of praise and offer prayer about this child of God!
After this outburst and some words of profound wisdom about peace and hope, love and justice, she handed the baby back to his parents. Jesus looked at Mary and then to Joseph with those deep eyes, gave a small guttural sound and fell asleep.
On the way home to Galilee, Mary and Joseph kept asking each other, “What was that all about? What was the meaning behind all of that?”
I’m sure that those of us who have presented our children for baptism or consecration probably did not have Mary and Joseph’s experience, and for those who await that opportunity, hope that the officiant is a bit more sedate!
What does this child and the mysterious events around his temple presentation mean? Mary’s anxieties and fears are our dilemmas too in this post modern twenty first century.
• We who are experiencing wars, hatred, violence and economic chaos wonder if our children will ever see a world at peace.
o What are our children teaching us about the way of peace in living?
o Or do they simply reflect our inability to simply live at peace with one another?
• Will we who fight about life in the womb, but glibly and arrogantly turn a blind eye toward killing in the home, on the streets, or on the battlefield ever understand the sanctity of life?
o How and who will break this cycle of violence so that the children in our midst can feel safe?
o Or will our children simply perpetuate the violence that we place upon them?
• We moderns and post-moderns tend to see the love of Jesus when it touches us or our selfish interests, but we so easily overlook the amazing grace of God when it calls us to be hospitable to the strangers in our midst who are different.
o What do our children teach us about accepting others with differences?
o Or are they picking up our prejudices and claiming them as their own?
• Rather than leaving bad debts for our children, what does Mary’s child teach us about giving, about serving, and accepting the debt of others?
o When our greed leads to global warming and economic chaos, what does Mary’s child teach us about accepting responsibility for bad decisions and receiving forgiveness?
o What are we learning about renewal and hope?
Can our dilemmas, like Mary’s anxieties, point us to God’s love and justice for this society and era of history? Could Mary & Joseph’s child be the children in our households? Who are the Simeons and Annas in our families whose wisdom brings us up short and makes us think about responsible decisions for our family and our global society?
Our ponderings and anxieties, like those of Mary, can be relieved if we allow ourselves and our children to be touched and consecrated with grace, justice and peace, as bestowed by Simeon and Anna in the temple on that day long ago.
The late Herman G. Stuempfle Jr. says it well in verse . . .
In homes unlit by laughter bright where hearts are sad, forlorn,
where want and worry darken hope, the Child of Light is born.
No kings bow down to worship him; no stars with splendor shine;
yet here, where deepest darkness lies, he makes a holy shrine.
Where streams of people flee in fear of home and kindred shorn,
where hungry children waste and die, the homeless child is born.
The child whose parents sped him far from threat of Herod’s hand,
comes near and with compassion shares the pain of every land.