Israel's strength and consolation
Hope of all the earth Thou art
Dear desire of every nation
Joy of every longing heart
I pause within the temple gates to catch my breath, wheezing slightly. The milling crowd presses about me.
Lord, did I hear You aright?
Through the shouts of money-changers and bleating of goats and sheep, I make my way to the inner courts, leaning on my stick. I scan the worshippers, the families come for sacrifice, for offering, for purification, not yet separated by male and female. Nothing seems unusual, and a stab of disappointment pierces my chest.
Well, Lord. I close my eyes and hear my own labored breathing. Maybe You just wanted me here to be near You, eh?
A baby cries.
I open my eyes and turn.
A small family has just entered, peasant laborers by their homespun clothes and dusty sandals. The husband, carrying two flapping doves, bends his head to whisper to his wife, who nods as she soothes the baby in her arms.
Ah. The sacrifice for purification after childbirth. Perhaps also the presentation of the firstborn to the LORD, as this child clearly is their first, young as they are.
And yet more . . .
The pressure mounts in my heart, the known Voice pounding in my spirit till I think I can hear it aloud. My knees begin to shake as I watch the girl cradle her baby, caressing the tiny dark head, her husband reaching to let the child grasp his finger as they wait their turn for sacrifice.
My already dim eyes blur with wetness. Truly, Lord?
Before I even know how, I am at their side, my eyes begging as my voice cannot as I hold out my arms for Him. The young mother hesitates at first, her grip tightening around her child—then she looks into my eyes, and her arms relax, and she lets me take Him.
The warm weight of Him settles into my bony arms, His little head cradled in my old hand. I lift my gaze to the temple ceiling, tears tracing down into my beard.
“Now, Lord, You are releasing Your bond servant to depart in peace, according to Your word; for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all peoples, a Light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.”
I gaze down at the Child in my arms and brush the back of my finger against the soft roundness of His cheek. He can’t be more than a month or two old—yet within His tiny being the glory of our God, so long absent from His temple, has entered it again.
The parents stare at us, the protective wariness on the young husband’s face softened to amazement.
They know, don’t they, Lord?
I reach a trembling hand to touch their foreheads in blessing, then turn to the girl, her face fresh with the bloom of new motherhood.
“Behold, this Child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and a sign to be opposed . . .”
I pause to clear my throat, aching with the weight of the message pressed on my heart, as I look into the wonder in her dark eyes.
“And a sword will pierce your even your own soul—to the end that thoughts from many hearts will be revealed.”
She gives a quick, frightened glance at her husband and reaches out for her baby.
But I hesitate, holding Him close once more, memorizing every line of His tiny form, the bright alertness in His eyes—then release Him, to be nestled close to His mother’s breast once more.
The husband thanks me with an uncertain awe in his voice, then hurries his family forward. It is their turn, though they are intercepted by Anna, who seems to know too. But of course, she would, wouldn't she?
Slowly I make my way back, through the throngs of people. The cry of a lamb pinches my heart, the innocent ones sacrificed time after time to help make a way for us into God’s presence, if only temporarily.
Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter . . .
I stumble at the memory of Isaiah’s words and turn to look back.
But the little family with the baby are gone, hidden by the crowd.
. . . All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.
My chest compresses with mingled dread and awe. Oh, Sovereign Lord—what is it you have in store for Him? How is it He will bring us back to You?
I hobble through the Court of the Gentiles, studying as always the strange clothing, the foreign faces, giving a smile here and there, though so many of my brethren hold themselves as far above these “others” as they can, even if they do seek to worship our God. Snatches from Zechariah play through my mind:
Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming . . . Many nations will join themselves to the LORD in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst . . .
And I am outside the gate, in the dusty street once more. A wave of weariness rocks me, and I sink onto a stone bench and lean my head against the wall, my heart pounding irregularly.
Now, Lord, You are releasing Your bond servant to depart in peace . . . for my eyes have seen Your salvation . . .
I lean my head into my hands, the tears stinging yet again. Truly, our Sovereign Lord is one who keeps His promises—to a longing nation, to an aching world. And to one waiting old man.
My eyes have seen Your salvation.