Open our ears, O Lord, to hear your word and know your voice. Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills that we may serve you now and always. Amen.
Today in the life of the Church we celebrate a feast day of long standing tradition; in the East it’s called the Entrance of the Most Holy Theotokos into the Temple and in our own western tradition the Memorial of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In my experience though many of us have celebrated the Marian feasts over the years this is one that we understand little about. In my mind there is good reason for this as it is not an event that is recoded in the sacred scriptures, instead we rely on the sacred traditions of the Church and writings outside of the Bible for what we know of this event.
In fact the primary source that many look to for this event is what is called the Protoevangelium of James (or the Gospel of James/Nativity of Mary). This book, though not ascribed divine origins, does have an ancient origin with scholars generally believing that it was written before the year 200AD.
Now I want to make it abundantly clear that this writing is not divine and does not hold the weight of Scripture or divine Tradition. Writings like this should not be used to create a foundation for any Christian belief. However, that being said the Church has accepted this feast day based on the weight of Holy Tradition, the Church Fathers writings and this ancient work.
As many of us would know the parents of the Blessed Mother were St. Anne and St Joachim; tradition tells us that these two were God fearing individuals who were barren and childless. Through the miraculous workings of God they received a vision in which they were promised a child. In their joy over this blessed event they promised to dedicate the life of their child to the service of God. Now at this time amongst the Jews it was common to dedicate all children during pregnancy and after birth. However, St Joachim and St Anne had something very different in mind.
The Protoevangelium records:
7… And the child [Mary] was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.
- And her parents went down marvelling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel.
So the generally held tradition tells us that The Blessed Mother, from a very young age, was dedicated to the special service of God; for 9 years (some of her most formative) she lived every day in constant service of God and His people.
Now many of us may ask why the Church would want to celebrate and commemorate such an event, surely we already know that Mary was a true and faithful servant through her acceptance of the Divine Mission Gabrielle brought to her. To this I want to say: each and every one of us has been a child at least twice in our lives; once we born to our natural parents and had our natural childhood, a second time we were once Children in the faith and the Church. For some of this this childhood started when we first heard of Christ or were first introduced to the Christian faith; for others of us who were born into Christian families this was once we took what had been taught and started to make our faith our own. However we can to this childhood we have each experienced it and today’s memorial holds a significant message for us.
Very early in her Childhood, just when her understanding of the world was forming the Blessed Mother was given a choice. She was taken to the Temple to be given to God and could either accept that and walk forward with faith embracing God, or, she could have turned back and cried for her past life and her parents. From the part of the Protoevangelium we read it is clear that the Blessed Mother not only accepted her life in the Temple but danced with Joy!
Each and every one of us at some point in our walk with God has faced a similar situation. We have all stood at the gate of the path that leads to salvation and had to decide whether we were going to step through the gate to a new life dedicated to God and His ways or are we going to turn back to the life that we had. You are all here today listening to this sermon so it’s evident that you chose to step through the gate.
Some of us may still be lingering around the start of the path and others of us may be some miles into the journey and I want to tell you that that’s more than ok. No matter how far along the path to salvation we may be the temptation is always there to look over our shoulders, to stare back at the gate and desire the life that lay on the other side. However, when that temptation rests upon your should I want you to remember the dedication of that little three year old Mary. She didn’t cry for her parents, she didn’t try and follow them, instead she danced with joy over serving God. If a normal three year old girl can seek after God with such joy surely that would encourage each and every one of us to try and do the same?
When hard times are at your door and it’d be easier to give up your faith and commitment to God I want you to stop, take a deep breath and still your mind. In that moment I want you to envision one image; I want you to think of a little girl, a little girl so filled with Joy that she’s dancing regardless of the difficulties she is about to face, regardless of what’s going on around her and I want you to let the joy of the little girl flow over into your heart and soul and banish the doubt and darkness from your mind.
In that moment I can guarantee you that the Blessed Mother will be with you, she will bring to you the joy that comes from service to God and she will embrace you with the loving embrace of a mother who has stood in the very place where you are now.
Let us pray:
Loving God, we all stand before you daily as children on the path to spiritual maturity just as our Blessed Mother stood before you in the temple at her Presentation. May each and every one of us be constantly inspired by the joy of Blessed Mary as she was dedicated to your service. May we look to her example as a light in our own lives and always strive to step forward on the narrow path that leads to eternal life and the beatific vision that is your presence.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.