Candlemass

A wry look at Luke 2: 22-40.

Presentation of Christ at the Temple (Presentazione di Gesù al Tempio) c1306, by Giotto

Joe clicked his teeth irritably and muttered under his breath, while they waited impatiently in the queue. He was there, under protest, with his new son and young wife, waiting to get in to the temple. They had come for the right of purification after the birth. He really didn’t want to be there. He considered that fulfilling the law of Moses to be just an unnecessary chore; an outdated practice that should have been dispensed with years ago. Mary was just as irritated, but her irritation stemmed from listening to her husbands continual muttering and griping since they’d joined the queue, so now she was just as agitated as him.

The queue was long and slow moving and standing in the heat, dust and crowd wasn’t helping either of their demeanours at all. By the time they passed through the gate, after he had resisted the temptation to scowl at the Roman guards on their way through, which he knew would have delayed matters even more, he was hot and in no mood to hang about longer than necessary. He told Mary ‘Take the kid and find a place out of the way, where you can keep him quiet for a while. I’ll get some temple money and the cheapest birds I can find as sacrifice’. As he strode brusquely into the mele’ he was already muttering again that it was a big enough sacrifice of a day to come here, never mind being expected to provide the layabout priests money and food into the bargain.

Joseph wasn’t gone long, he must have grabbed the first pair of birds he saw and with the pitiful few temple coins he came back with, it was clear to Mary he hadn’t bothered to find an honest trader and haggle. Iy was equally obvious he had not inspected the birds properly before he purchased them. She guessed that as soon as they were on their way home again, she’d have to put up with his moaning about getting ripped off in the temple market. In the brief time he’d been gone, she’d been looking around to see where the way into the inner temple court and started to point out to Joseph the entry but he wasn’t listening. “Come on” he said striding past her, throwing a glance over his shoulder to make sure she was following, stalked off in the wrong direction.

Most people who saw Joseph coming stepped quickly out of his way when they noticed the grim, determined look on his face. The few who didn’t see him were unceremoniously barged out of the way, by the corner of the crate that the birds for the temple offering were in. At the first gate to the inner court, he was summarily told by the guard to use the other entry. Mary half considered pointing out that if he’d listened to her they would be inside by now but probably wisely, she kept her thoughts to herself.

When the arrived at the correct entry to the inner temple they were stopped again and told to wait, as there were already enough people inside. When Joe and Mary were finally admitted to the inner temple court, the servant that greeted them showed them to a seat and informed them that the priest would be with them as soon as he could. After just a few minutes Joe was jumping up every time a temple servant passed to ask how much longer they would have to wait and every time he got the same reply, “not long now Sir. the priest is almost ready for you”. Joe was by now hot both metaphorically and physically. Hot under the collar and hot from the rising temperature. They had arrived early, when it was still quite cool, and had hoped to be done and away before the heat of the day.

By the time the priest arrived to greet them Joe just couldn’t help himself, ‘What took you so long’ he barked. The Priest said nothing for a moment then turned to walk away. By now, Joe was incandescent. He grabbed the priest’s shoulder and spun him around saying ‘where do you think you’re going?’. The priest looked disdainfully at the hand still gripping his shoulder, then pointedly back to Joe, still without saying a word. Mary, who had stepped up beside them laid her hand lightly on Joe’s arm and brushed his hand off of the priest’s shoulder. Standing on tip-toe, she spoke quietly into Joe’s ear.

A moment later, Joe dropped his eyes from the priest and almost spat out ‘I’m sorry, I’m having a bad day’. The priest, still without saying a word turned away again but after a couple of steps looked around and indicated they should follow him. As they walked the priest signed for a lad, who had watched the whole proceedings, and after a few words the boy approached Joe to take the temple offering. The priest looked back over his shoulder and asked Joe to relinquish the offering to the boy. He did do grudgingly.

As the priest lead them into a cooler, shaded area the priest introduced himself as Simeon. He asked their son’s name and on being informed it was Jesus said “I’ve been expecting you, however expected or not if you can’t be courteous, you can get out now.” Joe was about to speak again but Mary’s hand on his arm stopped him and this time she spoke with the priest, to ask for his blessing on the boy.

Simeon smiled at Mary and extended his arms toward he to take the child. As he did so he glanced back to Joe and returned his scowl before smiling again as he looked back to Mary. Taking the lad he said “I’ve waited a long time to meet this young lad but I think you can hold him, while I give the blessing, I think he needs changing”. Simeon wiped his hands on his robe.

Then, holding his hands over the boy, he said:

‘Well God, you said I’d see your salvation in some kid before I peg-out, so I guess this is it.
You kept your word so I can go for the long sleep now. Just give the kid the glue to fix this busted world.’

‘You call that a blessing, mate?’ said Joe. Simeon responded ‘it’s the best you’re gonna get after traipsing in here with that attitude … mate.’ ‘Oh and bye the bye, Miss” Simeon turned back to Mary, ‘this kid’s gonna cause you some grief before he’s done.’

Before Joe and Mary could depart, after the perfunctory blessing, an old dear called Anna ambled slowly out of the shadows. ‘Is this it. is this the one you were waiting for.’ she asked Simeon, ‘Yeah this is him. I just hope he doesn’t grow up with his father’s attitude.’ As she had missed the earlier exchange, she too leaned forward to bless the boy, sniffed and stepped back with a grimace saying ‘I think he needs changing.’

As the couple turned to go, Anna waited a few moments until they were out of earshot said to Simeon ‘well I guess the Big Fella upstairs know why He gave the boy to them but I’m darned if I do.’ ‘ Still, the mother seems ok I guess.’

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