Epiphany 4 - Evening Service
There is a
certain irony in celebrating the first visit of Jesus to the
Temple in Jerusalem on the first Sunday when we have had to move
out of our Church in the interests of keeping warm!
Many years ago new Mums had to undergo the dubious practice of
'churching' before they could be seen out and about in society
again with their new baby, and this was a direct copying of the
ancient Jewish rituals of purification of women after childbirth
that Candlemas in part commemorates.
But it wasn't just a question of attending the Temple for ritual
cleansing and special prayers. The Law stated that the young
mother must also bring a sacrifice - which would have been quite
expensive. Poor people were allowed to substitute two pigeons
instead of one pigeon and a lamb - so we know from the detail
provided in Luke that Jesus was born into a poor family. He knew
from first-hand experience the problems of hunger and a low income.
He understood how difficult it can be for some to make a living.
When we find life difficult at times - for whatever reason -
we should remember too that for Jesus life was not all plain
sailing - he knew the hard grind of making ends meet.
Indeed it has been speculated that if Joseph had died while Jesus
was growing up, - as seems highly likely as there is no mention
of him after Jesus is around his early teens, then Jesus would
have had to work to support his mother and younger siblings.
This may explain why his ministry did not begin until he was
around 30 years of age... before then he may have had family
responsibilities, but eventually his younger brothers may have
reached a point when they could shoulder the burden of family
responsibility, leaving Jesus free to pursue his calling from
God. Who knows?
It would not have been unusual. Working class people died young
in those days. What is surprising is that Mary should have lived
long enough to see her son grown up and eventually executed on
a cross. Most women were married at 13 and dead at 30 in First
It can't have been easy for Mary. She endured the journey to
Bethlehem when nearly 9 months pregnant - giving birth, probably
when not much more than a child herself, in strange surroundings
and without the help and support of her own family around her;
then she hears the strange prophetic message of Simeon in the
Temple - which must have sent a shiver down her spine unless
she dismissed it at the time as the ravings of an old senile
Then perhaps having to bring up a sizeable family - perhaps as
a widow without a husband to help for much of the time. Yet Mary,
the God-bearer, as she was later to be called, made a great job
of it. She raised a child who was both devout and full of compassion
for other people.
Some of the Greek philosophers used to say that a child is not
given to parents, but only lent to them - I'm sure you have seen
poems expressing something similar. Mary endured the scorn of
her neighbours for bearing a child before she was married, the
misogyny of the ceremonies which described childbirth as something
shameful from which she required 'cleansing or purification',
her struggles to bring up a family, her loneliness when her first-born
son left home.
Then in old age the greatest sacrifice of all - when perhaps
the words of Simeon came back to haunt her, proving that his
words had not been so misguided after all, when she had to give
back the son that God had lent her as she stood with some of
the other women, watching the full horror of his crucifixion.
If ever you are tempted to moan about the trials of parenthood
or family life, think for a moment of Jesus and Mary!