Something I have often heard a couple say when their first child arrives is this: ‘Nothing could have prepared us for this!’ I have heard it so often that it makes me smile and I don’t doubt that it is true. It usually seems to be the man who says it. I suspect that women are better prepared for a child than men, especially considering they have already carried the child for 9 months, which must be a wonderful but difficult thing. In fact I have the greatest respect for every couple or single parent I know who are trying to raise a child or children. While the children bring great joy, they also require 100% sacrifice. Apparently professional thieves don’t usually bother targeting homes with children because they know there won’t be much there in the line of money or jewellery, since it is all spent on providing for the children!
Although it is a big sacrifice, it is also a wonderful sacrifice, one which our parents made for us and I’m sure you cannot know what it involves unless you have been through it. Apart from the financial strain and worry of trying to provide the best for your children, there is also the emotional strain of hoping you will parent them properly and raise them to have a good chance in life too. As we all know too, parents never stop worrying about their children even when they are grown up with their own families. I suppose it is part of the vocation. The strange thing is that although people have been raising children since the beginning of the human race, it seems that each parent still has to learn from scratch. I guess each generation has to learn for itself.
Today we have the feast of the presentation of Jesus in the Temple, where Mary and Joseph come to the Temple to dedicate their child to God, which was required of them by the Jewish law. It wasn’t required that this be done in the temple in Jerusalem—any synagogue was sufficient—but they wanted to do it this way. No doubt they wanted to do the very best thing for their child, like all parents. So the Son of God is presented to the Father in heaven by Mary and Joseph. At the same time the Father is presenting his Son to the human race.
As with so many events in the life of Jesus, various signs accompanied this event. This time the old man Simeon takes the child and recognises that this baby is the chosen one of God for whom all the people have been waiting for centuries. How could he tell this baby from any other one? Because the Spirit had told him when to go to the Temple and that the baby he would see would be God’s anointed one, the Christ (which means ‘anointed’). The prophetess Anna also recognises the infant Jesus as the chosen one of God and they both give thanks to God for being allowed to witness this wonderful thing: God coming among us.
Like any other parents I’m sure Mary and Joseph went through all kinds of stresses and strains in trying to raise Jesus, worrying about whether they would be able to provide for him and teach him the Jewish faith properly. No doubt they also had all kinds of hopes for him as to what he would become when he grew up, after all the angel Gabriel had told Mary that he would be great and would be called Son of the Most High. But also like so many parents Mary and Joseph were faced with all kinds of unexplained things, like today’s event in the temple, then when Jesus goes missing for three days. Later when Jesus is publicly preaching it says at one point his family came to take charge of him because 'they thought he had taken leave of his senses!' And finally what must Mary have gone through seeing her own son arrested, tortured and executed in such a brutal way? Many of her hopes and dreams for Jesus must have been turned on their head along the way. And yet all of these events had their place. The most horrible event of all turned out to be the one that saved the human race from eternal death, opening the way to heaven for us.
Maybe these things are also a reminder to us that what can seem to us to be terrible changes, or ‘everything going wrong’, are not necessarily so. What seem to be disasters can be seen in a different way with the eyes of faith. There is so much we don’t understand about a person’s life, but perhaps we don’t need to understand. Maybe that can also help us to be open to the many unexpected changes that take place along the way, both for ourselves and others. We have a part to play in our children’s journey, an important part, but it is only a part. It is not for us to decide how someone’s life should be. Ultimately we are all in God's hands.