Through God’s divine power we are given everything we need in Christ for coming to know God and experiencing a life which is eternal. God’s gifts are treasured and precious promises given so that we might be able to share in God’s life and escape the corruption of the world (2 Peter 3-4).
A temple was a holy space where Jews encountered the presence of God. In the ancient icons, we see a door that opens up to the holy space and a curtain or cloth spread above this space to indicate the Ark of the Covenant. The mystery in this is that we know that God dwells in Heaven. “The LORD is in his holy temple; the LORD’s throne is in Heaven (Psalm 11:4).”
In the Hebrew poetry of Psalm 11, we see synonymous parallelism. In other words, both of these lines in this Psalm’s poetry are true – God is in the holy temple AND God’s throne is in Heaven, both at the same time.
In the remarkable technique of Hebrew poetry we can meditate on the mystery that the LORD is with Mary in the temple and yet in the throne of Heaven at the same time.
The account of Mary’s entry into the temple, held in the hearts of the Church’s tradition, is found outside the biblical text and mentioned in an early second century document known as the Proto-Gospel of James.
In this tradition, we hear mystery, too. Mary was brought to the temple at age three. The priest blessed her and sat her down on the “third step.” She then danced “with her feet” to the joy of the people. There she stayed, in the temple, fed by holy angels as she grew.
Taken literally we ask, “why did her parents leave her to the care of the temple?” However, deep mystery presides and we see a young child dedicated to the LORD, much like Hannah bringing her son Samuel to the temple.
What is the meaning of the “third step”? Often in ancient Judaism, the number “three” is understood as representing something “holy.”
And why are the people noticing particularly that she is dancing “with her feet.” Knowledge of the LORD is joy! And Mary embraced that joy throughout her being. Her life walked the joy of the Lord.
But there is more depth. Mary is to be the young woman who will bear God’s son into the world. She was the fruit of faithfulness. God gave the treasured promise of a savior to a young girl who was willing to grow in God’s love and entrust her being to God.
The temple, in other words, is God’s presence which nurtured her. The angels are a precious symbol of God’s care. She dwelt in God’s holy space, growing in the knowledge of the LORD and preparing to share in God’s life and plan, to escape the cruelty and evil of the world by filling her soul in faith.
The time soon came for her to be in the custody of a husband because of her emerging womanhood. At this moment we have only an account that is legendary and threaded with mystical details – perhaps purely human in their source. Her days were spent in an emerging womanhood, sewing purple cloth for the temple’s Holy of Holies.
Mary may have joined other young women in making temple cloths. This is quite possible. The color purple represents royalty, the divinity of God’s presence. We will see this symbol represented soon in the story of the Annunciation.
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