There is a moment at the end of this passage from Luke’s Gospel which I would like to draw. I imagine Mary and Joseph with the 40 day old baby Jesus standing at the top of the Temple steps looking at one another and in that exchanged look we see an audible, palpable long sigh of relief. I need an artist to encapsulate that instant somehow in that crucible of vision everything must melt: “We’ve done it, we can go home now, back to our own town of Nazareth.”
From the instant of the angel Gabriel their lives have been shaken up. An angel after all, do not tell me that it was not terrifying. Looking past those renaissance pictures of Mary in blue, meek and mild, sitting comfortably and accepting lilies, imagine the suddenness, those huge wings, the news, planning to tell Joseph, telling Joseph, the pregnancy, the visit to Elizabeth, her reaction, the awe of it all. Then travel to the chaos of Bethlehem, more pregnancy, a birth shepherds, angels again, wise men, fear threats, doubts. And even now a strange man who has been waiting, waiting for Him, and who taking a close intrusive look at her new born less than seven weeks old prophesies about him, only partly reassuringly and more mysteriously in words of swords that will pierce Mary’s heart and soul.
Now they are on the steps setting out, a poor family just managing the Temple offering of two pigeons, on the top step about to walk down. Can we capture that moment?
It is a little like looking at your eldest son or daughter as you leave them in their college or hall of residence room. There has been a flurry beforehand, the anxiety of the forthcoming exams, the cramming (or not), then the exams, the waiting for the results, the gathering of the possessions, the books the music the kitchen utensils, the clothes drier (there is always a clothes drier it seems) and a long drive somewhere to a registration and some confusion of where to go - and then a moment when you leave and they stay - and you go back to your own home and something has changed - they have become a proper student and you have a boy or girl at college.
Mary and Joseph have become proper parents now - they have come full circle. Jesus was given to them by God and they have been to the temple this morning and dedicated him (back) to God they have done everything customary. And this is the important point - up until now Luke has strained everything in his account to relate the divinity of this child we are in no doubt that he is come of God. Gabriel said:
“Do not be afraid Mary, and now you will conceive in your womb - he will be great and will be called, The son of the most high, he will reign over the house of Jacob and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”
But now we are assured of Jesus’ humanity. It is a liminal moment - literally, on the threshold, Mary and Joseph leave the Temple portico to start to be with their baby, to take him home, to enjoy him, to teach him, to be together. We do not know anything of their time in Nazareth, which seems to me to be both helpful and essential to our understanding of Jesus as a man. We need these years of calm, of ordinariness for we need to deeply see that Jesus has come to be one of us.
So come with me, with Mary and Joseph, to their home, away from the pressure, the fervour and the noise and let us exchange a glance there towards the altar that says “Yes we have come to your house, to know you, to be with you, to know that you are God but as well that you are with us and in us just as you were there in the home of Mary and Joseph.”