It was time

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It was time. It was time to take that little scrap of helpless life and face the press and push of the city. It was time to scrape together enough for a couple of doves for the purification sacrifice. It was time to present the child before God.

The narrow streets to the temple were crowded and noisy. The people pushed and shoved as they passed and she held the child closer. The outer courts of the Temple were if anything, noisier still. Animal bleats. Doves cooing and the shouts of the moneychangers and stallholders added to the cacophony. The smells, animal and human were overpowering.

Moving through the vast court of Gentiles, they pass through the narrow gate and climb the steps to the Gate Beautiful into the court of the Women. She drops the handful of small coins into the trumpet shaped coffers – the price of two turtledoves to be sacrificed for the purification ceremony. Swept along in the tide of worshipers, she climbs the 14 steps to the majestic Nicanor gate and stands at the threshold. This is as far into the Temple as she is permitted. She can see into the court of the priests, and the temple itself, from the gateway. There is a queue and she stands in line, waiting for the officiating priest. Her heart is beating wildly, and she is sure it will wake her still-sleeping child. She holds him a little tighter to stop her arms trembling. It is time. The priest approaches and spatters her and the child with the blood of sacrifice, declaring her to be clean. Even though she is expecting it, the warm sticky blood on her face and neck and across the baby’s face makes her reel in shock. She stumbles backwards even as she is supposed to hand the child over, offering him up God and then paying the ransom price to receive him back. The impatient priest has moved on down the line. Her trembling hands hold out her blood-spattered son, wanting to get this over and get out.

 

It was time. So much time had passed. Day after day he had waited. Year after year, his eager steps into the Temple courts were very much slower now. Hope burned ever bright even as body betrayed him. Looking, always looking. Waiting. Listening for God’s Spirit to point out the One. The One through whom the Light would come. It was Time.

He saw her. A slip of a girl with a pale face streaked with blood. For a moment his heart stood still. The pressing crowds disappeared, and he saw only her and the child held out in her shaking hands. Almost before he knew what was happening, he had gathered the warm bundle gently in his arms and held him to his heart. The baby stirred, opened his eyes, and they beheld one another for a long solemn moment. It was a life-changing look of recognition. It was time. Now.

Simeon was pierced with joy, and the song of praise that poured out of his lips unbidden, he sang to the blood stained child in his arms.

 Lord, NOW lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:   For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.

It was time. It was now. He had waited all his life for this moment.

The Light of the world was within the circle of his arms.

He glanced at the parents, who were wide eyed in wonder at his words.

He blessed them both for the task they had been given, for their obedient hearts, for the courage they would need. His words of prophecy and warning laid out the life of the child he held, as a sign. As a sacrificial lamb of God. Handing him back, he whispered gently of the pain she would know. The pain, that went right through her spirit, even as her face was splashed in blood. The pain that made her stumble, and would pierce her soul again.

 

It was time. She who had dwelled a lifetime in the courts of God had become a dwelling place of God. All her prayers, her tears and fasting had pointed to NOW. It was time. Simeon’s song of praise had sung her heart into wild joy. Emmanuel. God with us. At that moment her whole life was gathered up in Presence. The child of Promise was come.

As if drawn by invisible threads of wonder, she drew close to see for herself. To feast her eyes on the tiny child whose eyes fastened on her own. She had lived so long. So many years. So much time had passed. But Time had stopped in its tracks before a helpless babe. Heaven touched earth, and her voice lifted with the unheard song of angels that rang around the unheeding crowded courts. IT WAS TIME. She would tell them. Would carry the Good News to the world. To all who would listen. The Light had come, and lit a beacon in her soul.

 

Transfiguration

Transfiguration

Jesus wanted to pray.  This wasn’t unusual. He was always praying. He would often leave us mid evening and set off by himself, and we’d see him again sometime the next morning. This time he wanted company.  It had been a long, busy day and to be honest, I could have done with my bed, but there was something about the way he asked that made it hard to refuse. There were four of us. Peter and John, Jesus, and myself.

I wasn’t sure where we were going. Only that it was up, and up, and more up. There was very little light, and it took all my concentration to keep following. I could just about see where I was putting my next step.  There was no conversation. We didn’t have the breath for that. It seemed to go on forever. If I was tired before I started, I was exhausted now. This praying stuff was hard work, and no mistake. Finally he stopped. I guess we must have been somewhere near the top, but I couldn’t really see.  It had been warm enough as we were making the effort of climbing, but after a few minutes of pause, I could feel the chill air and drew my cloak around me. Peter, John and I had flopped down to the ground very soon after stopping. I guess we were all feeling pretty much the same.

We have never discussed that night. In fact this is the first time I have told this story. The details are burned into my memory, together with a host of swirling emotions. I have gone over them many times in my mind, but it is hard to find the words to describe quite what happened.

Jesus remained standing, a little way from us. He was praying silently. I am afraid I was shaking my head to stay awake. Too tired to pray.  Too tired to think. My body and my brain were trying to shut down and it was all I could do to fight it.  He had wanted us with him for some reason, and I was trying to do just that, but losing.  I tried to keep my eyes focused on him, and listening for anything he might say.

I thought I must have started dreaming.  Either that or the thin mountain air was playing tricks with my brain.  Jesus’ face began to radiate with light as did his clothes. It was like he lit up from within. Brighter and brighter, until I was completely dazzled. Frightening didn’t begin to cover it. It is strange how overwhelming light can feel.  I don’t have a word that describes it adequately.  I thought I knew this man I had worked alongside, but this being, radiant with glory beyond imagining, splintered all my preconceptions.

All at once there were three of them. Three shining figures talking together. It was Moses and Elijah. Don’t ask me how I knew that, I have never been able to explain that to myself – but I knew without a shadow of doubt, that is who they were, the instant I saw them. Moses was speaking to him of the ‘Exodus’ Jesus was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. A deliverance that would eclipse the rescue Moses led, by a million miles. (At the time, I barely understood what they were talking about. I heard the words, but I couldn’t take them in. I see so clearly now they were encouraging him for his journey to the cross as ‘the Lamb of God’.)  Their conversation came to a close, and Moses and Elijah appeared to be turning to leave him.

Peter’s voice made me jump. Speaking too fast and too loudly, he gabled something about making shelters for each of them. I think he wanted this extraordinary moment to last longer- I am not even sure if he knew what he was saying. The words had barely left his lips when we were all enveloped in a cloud. Weather can change very quickly in the mountains, but this was like no cloud I had ever seen. I find it hard to explain it to you. It was terrifying. Like the cloud that led the Israelites out of Egypt and across the desert- we were engulfed in God. The sense of being in the Presence of the Almighty God was electrifying. I could barely breathe. I have never felt such an intense awareness of holiness. It made me want to lie flat on my face, but I couldn’t move.  To be honest, I didn’t know if I was still alive.

Then God spoke. Spoke to me- to us.  It sounded like thunder and yet felt like a whisper. I know that doesn’t make sense, but you’ll have to believe me. “THIS IS MY SON” the words were charged with such love and power “ MY CHOSEN”

I trembled from head to foot. “LISTEN TO HIM!”  As the sound died away, the cloud melted and Jesus was simply standing there. Alone. The same man that had climbed the mountain with us, looking very human and vulnerable, and yet everything had changed.

We didn’t speak. Couldn’t speak. Even Peter, for once, was completely silent. Awestruck. I was still trembling. The command to listen was still echoing in my ears and I was listening with every fibre of my being.  Jesus didn’t say a word, but his face and his eyes spoke volumes. The light no longer blazed from his face, but my heart was aflame.

Some months later I heard him describe himself to those listening to him as “the Light of the world” and that “those who followed him would never walk in darkness” and I was instantly taken back to that mountain. How it felt as I walked back down. As if I was carrying the Light I had seen.  I understood him even less than before, and yet I would follow him wherever he led, even if I didn’t know where he was going.  I had to follow him even into the darkness, as how else would I see? How else would I hear?

And to think I almost fell asleep.