The way it might have been (Luke 2: 21-39).
The couple, a young woman in her teens, not much more than a girl really, by the name of Mary, and a slightly older man called Joseph approached the entrance to the temple. The girl was shielding their child in her arms, almost 6 weeks old now, from the bustle of the crowd around them jostling to get in. The the man, a carpenter by trade, carried a small wooden cage, that he had probably made himself, that two doves in it. They had come to the temple for the rite of purification, according to the Law of Moses.
There was a slow moving queue of people inching along to get in to the temple. Eventually they passed between the Roman guards at the entrance, into the outer temple courts and into the hubbub of business being conducted with only slightly less press of the crowd around them than in the queue at the gate, whilst they had waited to enter.
Quickly scanning their surroundings, taking in the tables of the money changers and the traders selling animals and birds for sacrifice, the man led the way through the crowd to a quieter corner, where they could briefly escape the milling bodies, if not the noise. They stood there for a few minutes the man casting his eyes around the stalls, especially those of the money changers.
Seeming to make up his mind about something, he asked the young woman to wait and made his way over to the table of one of the money changers. He had not been watching idly for those few minutes. He had been looking to see which of the money changers stalls appeared to be the busiest, so might be offering the most temple coin in exchange for the few denarius he could afford. He approached the table he had selected and after exchanging the usual pleasantries with the portly trader, he got down to the serious business of haggling, as was expected. After a few minutes of hard bargaining, he exchanged his few denarius for even fewer temple coins and then made his way back to Mary and his child.
After quickly showing her the few Temple coins he had procured, they threaded their way betwen the stalls and crowds, making for the entrance to the inner temple court. As they passed inside, dropping their few temple coins into the clay collection jar under the watchful eyes of the temple guards on their way, they were relieved to find themselves in a quieter, much less crowded area. That relief did not last very long however because although they were glad to escape the milling crowds and the noise, with so few people about the inner court they now felt uncomfortably exposed, without the crowd to hide in.
A man came towards them, a priest of the temple dressed in a simple, plain but good quality robe, making the man feel somewhat self concious about his own patched, threadbare garment and worn sandals. Upon reaching the family, the priest who had been followed a few steps behind by a young man, a temple servant, stopped and waited for the servant to catch up. Stopping beside the priest, the young man held out his hands expectantly but did not say anything. The priest apologised for the lad, explaining that he was unable to speak but that he would take the offering of doves from them.
After the boy had taken the cage with the doves, the priest asked them to follow him. Joseph, wary and rather taken aback said, without moving to follow, “You seem to have been expecting us?” The priest stopped and turning apologised for his manners, for not introducing himself immediately and said to them “I’m Simeon and although I don’t know your names, I knew you’d come”. He told them that God had sent His Holy Spirit to him with a prophesy that he would see with his own eyes Israel’s saviour, the Messiah. It was that Spirit that had moved Simeon on that day and at that time to come out into the temple court. When he saw them, he knew that the child they carried was the fulfilment of the prophesy. The baby’s father and mother looked at each other and something unspoken passed between them. They gave Simeon their names; Joseph the Carpenter and his wife Mary and the boy’s name, Jesus.
Although still a little unsure, Mary and Joseph allowed the Priest, Simeon, to take baby Jesus into his arms and they followed him into the cool of the temple keep. Looking down into the baby boy’s eyes, Simeon said:
Sovereign Lord, as you promised to me that before my death, I would see your salvation,
I see in the eyes of this child that You have kept that promise and I will be able to depart in peace.
I see in this child salvation for a broken world, for Jew and gentile alike.
Joseph and Mary could hardly believe their ears for what Simeon had said about their son, then he blessed them all and speaking directly to Mary told her that, their son was going to shake the world. That he was going to bring many down and that others would be raised up through him. He also said something very worrying to Mary, when he told her that their son would one day be a cause for great sorrow and grief to her ‘like a sword through her heart’, as he put it.
There was an old woman a friend of Simeon, a prophetess called Anna, who lived in the temple and she too came out to see the child. She had been married only seven years before her husband had died and now she spent her time fasting and praying, never leaving the temple. She greeted them all warmly, especially her friend Simeon, before praising God for the child and offering him thanks for the boy, who would be the saviour of Jerusalem.
It had taken Mary and Joseph, with their son, Jesus, hours to get into the temple and meet with Simeon and Anna. Once there, the whole experience seemed to be over in moments before they found themselves, slightly bemused, on their way out again. They negotiated the milling crowds this time preoccupied and hardly noticing the hubbub around them. Once outside, it didn’t take them long to get back to their rented room, where they discussed deep into the night everything that Simeon and Anna had told them. The next day they set out back to their home by Galilee, where Joseph would be able to resume his carpentry whilst their son grew.