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by Dobrodiyka Cornelia Bilinsky
The sun beat down on the little gray donkey as he slowly trudged along the dusty road. He stopped suddenly, as if weary of his journey.
“Keep going, my friend,” said Joseph, “We have a way to go yet.”
Mary laughed. “Maybe he thinks this journey is going to be like the last one.”
She looked down at the baby in her arms and smiled lovingly. “But it's very different, isn't it, my little one?
Mary thought back to the last journey she and Joseph had taken together. They had traveled from Nazareth to Bethlehem, the City of David, to register for the census, according to the decree of Caesar Augustus.. It had been a difficult and tiring journey, which had taken many days. Mary had been heavy with the child growing in her womb. How grateful she had been for the donkey! What a relief it had been to sit on his back from time to time instead of having to walk the whole way. Even so, riding on the donkey had not been easy either. The swaying and bumping on the rough road had often made her ill and she had longed for rest. Then when they had finally arrived in Bethlehem, there had been no room for them in the inn. It was only because of the kindness of the innkeeper's daughter that they had found shelter in a cave where animals were kept.
All that was behind them. Despite the hard times, Mary had every reason to be happy. It was there in that little cave surrounded by animals, that she had given birth to Jesus, the child promised to her by the angel. Jesus was a beautiful healthy baby, and Mary loved him dearly. All she wanted to do was to settle down in a quiet place and take care of him. Soon, perhaps, very soon, she kept thinking, they would go back home to Nazareth.
But only yesterday, Joseph had disturbed her thoughts.
“Tomorrow he will be forty days old,” he reminded Mary, “We must take him to the temple in Jerusalem. It is the law.”
Indeed, it was the law of the time that every first born boy should be taken to the temple when he was forty days old. In the temple he would be presented to the priest as an offering to God. The priest would say a prayer, offering the child to the Lord, and then he would give him back to his mother. Then he would place a sacrifice on the altar and burn it.
“Yes, Joseph,” Mary had replied with a sigh, “We must obey the law. We will go to Jerusalem.”
“Tomorrow,” said Joseph, “we will leave very early in the morning.”
Fortunately, the temple in Jerusalem was only a half-day's journey from Bethlehem. And so here they were, on the dusty road to Jerusalem. Mary glanced at the small cage tied to the donkey's back. In it were two turtledoves. This was their gift to the temple, the gift which would be burned as a sacrifice to the Lord. Every family that brought their first born boy to the temple was also required to bring a sacrifice. Those who could afford it brought a small lamb. Those who were poor brought two turtledoves. Mary's heart broke a little as she thought about this. She loved the little white doves, which cooed and sang Jesus to sleep as they journeyed. But the doves had to give up their lives. They would be burned at the altar and they would die. It was a sad thing, but Mary knew that it had to be done. The sacrifices were needed to make up for the people's sins and to make things right with God. That was the law.
Finally they reached the temple in Jerusalem. As Mary and Joseph made their way up the temple steps, Mary looked at her baby in wonder. In her heart she knew that Jesus was not just any first-born son. The angel had said so. The words were burned in her memory: “You shall bring forth a son and you shall call his name Jesus and he shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High.” “What did it all mean?” Mary wondered. She wished she could understand what it all meant.
As Mary and Joseph stood in the temple foyer, waiting for their turn, Mary noticed a very old man with a long white beard. Standing in a corner, with his arms raised and his eyes turned to heaven, he was muttering intense prayers in continuous soft undertones.
“Joseph, look at that man!” Mary whispered.
“That's Simeon,” a nearby stranger interrupted, “He comes here every day, praying and waiting for the Messiah.”
“We're all waiting for the Messiah, for God's chosen One,” said another stranger, “Simeon isn't the only one.”
“Ah,” replied the other man, “but Simeon is certain that he will not die before he has seen the Messiah. He says God has promised him that.”
Both men laughed and moved on to another part of the temple.
Finally it was Mary and Joseph's turn. They presented Jesus to the priest who took him from Mary. Facing the altar, he chanted a long prayer. Then he gave Jesus back to Mary and turned to Joseph. Joseph handed him the cage with the two white turtle doves.
Just then the elder Simeon approached the family. His eyes burned brightly with excitement.
“Please let me hold the child,” he asked.
Taking Jesus in his arms, Simeon looked at the baby for one long moment. Then he raised his eyes and cried out, “Now, Lord, you may let me die in peace, for you have kept your promise. My eyes have seen the Saviour, the light that will show you to the Gentiles and the glory of your people, Israel.”
Turning to Mary, Simeon spoke to her gently. “This child will do many great things, but one day a sword of sorrow shall pierce your heart.”
With trembling hands, Mary took Jesus back into her own arms. Quietly she and Joseph left the temple and went back to their donkey. The wonder in Mary's heart was ever growing. What lay ahead for her child? What would Jesus become? What would he do? And what did Simeon mean that a sword of sorrow would one day pierce her heart?
She said nothing of this to Joseph, but he seemed to understand her worries.
“Mary, “ he said, “I think it is time to go back to Nazareth.”
“Oh, Joseph, that would be wonderful.” Mary cried out with joy. “But it will be long journey, ” she pointed out.
“Our job,” said Joseph, “is to take care of Jesus. God will do the rest. We have to trust in God.”
“Yes,” Mary smiled, “We will trust in God. After all, God always keeps His promises.”