Mary & Joseph (1) – Presenting

Mary & Joseph meet Simeon & AnnaMary and Joseph went to Jerusalem when Jesus was just 40 days old. It was the custom under Old Testament laws that parents would take their first-born son to the Temple to dedicate him to God: to ‘Present’ him. Hence why that event is sometimes called the ‘Presentation of Christ’. There, they meet, first, Simeon and, later, Anna. (Two other people with a story to tell at some other time.)

Please read Luke 2:22-35

When Simeon speaks to Mary, it’s easy to forget that Joseph was also there. Joseph can get overlooked in the story of Jesus’ life but he heard those same words. The prospect of death intrudes into their time of joy. Something these parents will be reminded about a couple of years later when wise travellers from the East present their gift myrrh: an oil for embalming.

Although it’s not known how old Joseph and Mary were when they married, Jewish tradition at the time stated that boys could marry from the age of 18 and girls from aged 12. So Joseph is almost certainly older than Mary and here he is in the Temple with a baby who is not his own flesh and blood (which must still be carrying a degree of confusion in itself). He is like a stepfather, a foster parent, caring for this child as if he was his own. And here too is Mary: one who will, ultimately, outlive both her husband and her first born.

Mary. A teenage mum married to an older man. An ordinary girl called to be the mother of the Son of God. That God should choose such a person. ‘Why me?’ she might have asked. ‘Why her?’ we might say. Destined to be present at the first of Jesus’ miracles: the wedding in Cana; and at the last: his death and resurrection. By the time she’s in her 40s, she will be watching the death of the babe she now holds in her arms before Simeon. The sword will pierce her soul. What greater loss than that. It is to be a hard life. This is no easy calling. But there again, what calling ever is?

Joseph. Carpenter. Bread winner. Provider. ‘What on earth is going on here?’ he might have asked. ‘Why him?’ we might say. A descendant of David. A righteous man (Matt 1:19 KJV). One can imagine that both the confusion and the God-given resolution of the arrival of this child is probably impacting on his work. As a carpenter, his occupation had a long and honourable history in Israel stretching back to the building of the Tabernacle. He uses tools, probably some not that dissimilar to today’s. He makes furniture, works with builders, farmers and fisherman. A respected man in a respectable job. He knows this son will watch him at work and will follow in his footsteps (See also Mark 6:3 and Matthew 13:55). It’s a tough job. It’ll be hard working when you’ve got things going on at home.

Mary and Joseph. Maybe it’s a good thing they didn’t know all that was going to happen in the course of their lives – just as it is for us, really. But what stories they will be able to tell.

Spend a few minutes reflecting on how it would have been for Joseph and Mary as they left the Temple that day. Pause to reflect on what can be learnt from their lives. Their trust in God. The way God uses ordinary people. If God can use them, God can use anyone. Including you.

Think back to times when your future has been uncertain: how has God guided and supported you in such times?

 

 

When you’re ready, move on to Part 2 of this story.

 

Thomas (1) – Doubting

Doubting ThomasBut what if Jesus hadn’t come back to life after all?

Please read John 20: 24-25

What do you have doubts about? The Virgin Birth? The Resurrection? The turning of water in to wine? Prayer being answered? The very existence of God in a world of war, hatred, corruption, injustice, accidents, illness, terrorism, abuse…?

Or doubts about God having sent is only son so that you – yes, you – might have eternal life? That you are loved? That you are loved by God?

Everyone has doubts – be that about matters of faith and belief, work and family, marriage and parenting, friendships and relationships, money and housing, health and illness, life and death… you name it, we have doubts about it.

Thomas was one of Jesus’ closest friends. A dedicated companion. Going everywhere and seeing everything. Thomas was one who sought to understand who Jesus was and what his purpose was. Asking questions when Lazarus was reported dead (John 11:16) and again in the minutes that followed Judas’ departure from the Last Supper (John 14:1-6). Three years spent in such company. And yet despite all that, we might say, he had doubts.

Not unlike others we have considered (such as Mary Magdalene and Judas Iscariot) , he too has been attributed a negative connotation: ‘Doubting Thomas’. Sometimes used derogatively towards those who don’t believe or agree with what others might be proposing, the phrase even has its own dictionary definitions: ‘an incredulous or habitually doubtful person’ (Merriam-Webster); ‘a person who insists on proof before he or she will believe anything; sceptic’ (Collins). And yet we can learn a lot from Thomas.

Left unaddressed or unresolved, doubts can become all-consuming. They have the power to erode away confidence in our ability to make decisions. To the extent that we never make any at all. We can also find ourselves holding on to doubts even with the greatest evidence to the contrary. Paradoxically, having doubts can be one thing we can be certain about.

Having doubts is part of the human condition and as well as matters to do with faith and belief, they are an important element in the making of wise decisions. Doubts are part of the checks and balances we need in life. We will have doubts about the new job we’ve started, or whether the person we wish to marry is the ‘right one’, or about God’s calling to a vocation, to name just a few. Having doubts can help us to discern both God’s will and our own, and they enable us to ask and to answer questions. If we are 100% certain about something really important then we may just be deceiving ourselves or perhaps choosing to ignore some inconvenient truths. As Thomas was to discover for himself, having doubts can be helpful.

Having doubts plays an important part in becoming the person we want to be and God wants us to be. Uncomfortable as they may be at times, be thankful for your doubts. Acknowledge them. And challenge them. Ask God to show you the part they play in discerning what he is saying.

Write a list of those things – anything you like: faith, life, work, whatever – which cause you to have doubts.

 

 

When you’re ready, move on to Part 2 of this story.

Thomas (2) – Believing

From doubting to believingAfter the resurrection, Thomas wanted to be sure. He wanted to see the evidence.

Please read John 20:26-29

Poor Thomas. It must have been a difficult week. The other ten disciples and followers, including the Marys, would have been full of the fact that Jesus, their beloved Lord was not dead but was alive (and no doubt also a bit confused by it for themselves, one expects, although they may not have admitted that to Thomas).

In the high emotion of the situation, Thomas could have easily left the rest of the group. But he didn’t. He stayed with them. Listening to them, eating with them and praying with them.

Even so, Thomas must have spent that week wandering around, questioning the words of his closest friends, waiting for Jesus to appear around a corner. What a very long week it must have been. A week of uncertainty. A week of hope, fearing disappointment. A week of shame because he could not bring himself to believe like the others did. A week of waiting.

There are times when we want to be absolutely sure of something aren’t there? When we want evidence to clear up the confusion and the doubt. Some people have even likened Thomas to that of a scientist.

Thomas was fortunate: he had Jesus right there in front of him. How we would all long for such an experience! Yet note Jesus’ words in John 20:29. Thomas now believed because he had seen Jesus once again – and Jesus tells him how much greater is the blessing for those who believe without seeing him.

We, with all our doubts, come to Christ in the knowledge that we have not seen him. We come to Christ in faith, trusting that, in the balance of probability, he is alive and he is with us. He takes those doubts, that faith and that trust and he blesses us.

How else can we respond but by saying ‘My Lord and my God!’

Look back at your list of doubts. What evidence might there be to challenge them?

Now write a list of those things – anything you like: faith, life, work, whatever – which cause you to respond:

‘My Lord and my God!’