I can see the couple. He is about 35, a middle-aged man for that time in earth’s history when few men lived past 50 years of age. Even through his modest robe, one can detect the strength in his shoulders. This is a man whose physical structure has been shaped by hard labor.
His wife is young, maybe no more than 18 years old. She is pretty, but not in a distracting way. Both of their faces are composed with a quiet earnestness and purpose.
They make their way from dirt streets made firm by the passage of many feet to the cobblestone and then to the city’s paved streets. They aim their steps toward the golden-domed temple. Its height and grandeur dominate the landscape.
The couple is surrounded by people coming and going. There is the bartering of tradesmen and merchants pitching their wares. This noise is challenged by the braying of beasts of burden and the background “white sounds” of business under every city’s music. No one notices that God is passing by.
You can notice a bundle in the young woman’s arms if you look closely. From the bundle are emitted the sighs and gurgles that come from a newborn just tuning itself to life outside the womb. The young woman holds the baby with affection, and the older man guides the woman and the baby with the protective care of a husband, father, and provider.
The couple finally arrives at a room beside the temple, a place where both men and women are accepted; there, they are received by a priest going about his usual duties. The couple reveals their inauspicious status by having only a turtle dove to offer at this dedication of their baby. The priest barely looks at them. The book Desire of Ages, p. 52, describes it this way: “The presentation of infants was a common scene. The priest received the redemption money as the babes were presented to the Lord day after day. Day after day, he went through the routine of his work, giving little heed to the parents or children unless he saw some indication of the wealth or high rank of the parents.”
Do you see why I am moved to reflection? I mean, if this bored preacher going about his daily ministries in this big city church had spent any time in the seminary studying the prophecies, maybe he would have sensed his moment at this child’s dedication.
Surely some of them whispered news of claims from shepherds watching sheep on the hills outside Bethlehem had reached nearby Jerusalem; it was just a month and a half before. There was talk of angels, a young woman, and a special baby. And even if the priest had not turned too quickly to other interests after blessing the Child, he might have heard the heartfelt pronouncements from the senior citizens of his parish—Simeon and Anna.
The priest would go to his grave perhaps never knowing that the pinnacle of his ministry, yes, his life, had occurred on a day of routine events.
Is there some lesson here for you? There are so many of life’s opportunities where God places Himself in our path. It can be something that is obviously momentous, like the birth of a child to a family, or it can be something as routine as a helping hand to a neighbor or a needed apology to a family member. It can be an opportunity to witness to a coworker about the love of Christ, or it can be a phone call to a missing member who used to faithfully attend your church.
The baby Jesus in that preacher’s arms was not valued for who and what He was—God and Savior. Too often in our life situations, people are not valued as “God-sent” opportunities.
One more reflection: The priest did his duty, but he was blind to the meaning of the moment. Often, it is not that we fail to do our duty—we make the apology, we make the visit—but we are blind to the meaning. Did not Jesus declare, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).
The priest finishes his work. The priest hands his Savior back to the couple and impatiently awaits their departure so that he might attend to his next duty. He is like a person who drives on the same freeway every day to work. That scenery becomes a noxious blur. He does not notice the fresh bouquet of wildflowers that the Creator has planted along the side of the highway. But Mary and Joseph know that something special is about to happen. They are about to become colaborers with God.
Did you notice the last time that God placed Himself, and His work, in your care?