They met in the temple, Mary and Joseph, Anna and Simeon. How did they get there? What brought them to that time and place of meeting?
For that matter, what brings us to the temple, this place and time, where God resides?
In all cases the answer is the same. It is Jesus who brought Mary, Joseph, Anna and Simeon together, and it is Jesus who brings us, all of us, together here in this time and place.
There is an immediacy, a timeboxing, in these readings today. In Malachi we read that “…suddenly there will come to the temple the LORD whom you seek”. Suddenly- the one we have been longing for, at a sudden time he will come.
The Holy Family came to the temple because ‘the days were completed for their purification’; the time- 40 days after birth- required by Mosaic Law. Jesus came to his temple in accordance to the letter and the cadence of the law that he came to fulfill.
Anna, the prophetess, the last of the Old Testament prophets, saw Jesus and his mother because a she ‘came forward at that very time’ as we read in the Gospel. And Simeon, Simeon the righteous, the last righteous person of the Old Testament, came that day of all days because the Spirit led him. Jesus brought this unlikely group together at that moment for the sublime meeting of the old and new covenants.
Simeon and Anna did not really know why they came to that particular time and place. It was an ordinary day for them until they suddenly encountered something- or rather someone- far exceeding anything they could have dreamed of. Mary and Joseph thought they knew why they were in the temple on that ordinary day but they as well got far more than they had expected. We read that they ‘were amazed at what was said about the child.’
Our God is a God who appears in time. Though he is timeless and eternal, he stepped into human history as Jesus and made himself part of our world. Jesus, the Word of God, in becoming man brought about a fundamental change in the very condition of time, sanctifying it.
This is the great paradox of Christianity, God as man, and even, God as an infant, the divine hidden in the ordinary. So intimate is his love for us that he came personally in search of us, as the Creator – suddenly- enters his creation, and eternity enters time.
How few recognized the extraordinary baby in their midst in that most ordinary scene on an ordinary day in Bethlehem.
How often still do we fail to see God in the circumstances of each ordinary day?