Today is the feast of the Entrance of the Mother of God into the the Temple. We celebrate the event in the life of the Virgin Mary when she is presented in the Temple by her parents, Joachim and Anna. The hymnography of the feast is rich and wonderful. Like much of the writings of the Fathers, the Church’s liturgical writings love irony. It loves the irony of the strong become weak, of the rich become poor, etc.
In today’s feast there is the marvelously rich irony that she who will become the true Temple of God, she in whose womb God-in-the-flesh will reign incarnate for nine months, she of whom the old Temple was only ever a type, is now walking into the Temple.
The even richer irony, of course, is that the Temple she is entering was never the glory-filled Temple of Solomon’s reign (when that Temple was consecrated the glory of God filled the it such that the priests could not “stand to minister”), much less the wonderfully glory-filled tabernacle erected by Moses in the wilderness. This Temple was a late-comer, a replacement of the the Temple destroyed by the Babylonians. A Temple that had no Ark.
Now, the true she who is the true Ark enters the Temple. Now the true bearer of the Glory of God, walks unrecognized in the midst of the earthly building that is “Ichabod” (the “glory is gone”).
Things are so much more than they appear. A little girl is the longed for bearer of the Word. She will be the Mother of God. This little girl is the one of whom the prophecies of old, given to Eve, were spoken. Her seed will indeed “bruise his (the serpent’s) head.”
Our own lives have their irony, an irony too often lost on us. “Man,” said St. Gregory of Nyssa (I do believe), “Is mud who was commanded to become god.” The irony that we are commanded to become god is lost on us – we usually just think that we’re mud, or worse.
The greatest irony of all, perhaps, is that we are loved so infinitely, so beyond measure, while we still feel so unloved. We are lonely in the midst of all the company of heaven. We are hungry in the middle of a banquet. We are naked while the glory of God waits there to clothe us.
Things are so much more than they appear. My neighbor, who seems so well described by the term, “mud,” is himself as much destined to glory as myself and all I can see is mud. Walking in the finite, created walls of an old temple, I would easily have mistaken a young girl of three for just another mud child. Would I have known the Mother of my God?
There are many who today waste their time trying to put the mud back on her whom God has glorified. They would like the irony to disappear. But with the disappearance of the irony of the Mother of God would disappear every irony God has given us. She alone, of all humanity, said, “Behold the handmaiden of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy Word.” And at such words, though spoken by one of us mud-children, Life was breathed into humanity, and one of us becomes what we were meant to be. A young woman becomes the Mother of God.
And in that young girl is fulfilled the words of today’s gospel, “Blessed is he who hears the word of God and keeps it.” What would God do with this mud man of myself? I can only read His promises in wonder. I know that whatever it is He intends, it is much more than it appears, for “it doth not yet appear what we shall be.”
“But we know,” the wise Apostle tells us, “That when He shall appear, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” Doubtless, changed finally into the image we were created to be, we will see the wonder that is the Mother of God, and see her as she is as well. For then, “We shall know even as we are known.”
It’s a feast day of irony. But be careful as you make your way down the street today. Things are far more than they appear. We have a God who loves irony.