We’re at the beginning of Advent, just one week in, preparing for the Birth of Christ, and today we see Mary taking her first steps towards bearing the God of heaven. As usual, a timely reminder.
She was the promised one, Mary. She was the child God blessed the barren Joachim and Anna with in their old age, the child they vowed to give back to the Lord as soon as she was weaned and able to live without them.
And so today we celebrate the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple as young Mary strides fearlessly towards the priest Zachariah, towards her salvation and that of the world, as if she knew that she would one day carry the Son of God within her very womb. That in just a little over a decade, she would give birth to the Savior of the universe. Did she know? Did this toddler have a grasp on the divine? Was she young enough, fresh enough, close enough to the earth to hear the rumblings of her God, walking her down His paths?
The icons of this feast depict Mary stepping up onto the dais, without a sidelong glance at her encouraging parents. She is reaching for the priest, but really – really – young Mary is reaching for God. She is reaching for things no one can imagine, and only this young girl can sense. Tradition tells us that she didn’t just go peacefully, but she took things one step farther: she threw herself into the arms of the Zachariah; threw herself at the future that awaited her in the Temple. The Theotokos didn’t have many misgivings.
And upon receiving Mary, what does Zachariah do? He takes her to the Holy of Holies, to the cusp of the very place where even he is only allowed once a year, on the Day of Atonement. The Holy of Holies, where God once dwelt, where the Ark of the Covenant once held the very presence of God. The Holy of Holies that has laid empty for ages, awaiting a new Ark, a new vessel for God to indwell. And Zachariah watches as she enters. And as she dances with joy like only a three-year-old might.
She dances, this child, on the very place of the Ark that once held God in tablets of stone and a vessel of manna. And she prepares herself to become the Living Ark, the Ark who will contain the Living God. The Living Ark who dances with God.
And today we celebrate the promise kept my Joachim and Anna. We celebrate the love and wisdom and humility of one high priest. We celebrate the faith of a small child. And with the angels, we are amazed.
Beholding the entry of the Most Pure,
the angels were struck with amazement:
“How does the Virgin enter into the Holy of Holies?”
(refrain of the canon, ode 9)
In peace, and dancing,