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Beneath this noble ceiling, in this forest of marble shafts, they walk slowly round to the east side, and approach the stalls of those who furnish victims for the sacrifices and other articles of merchandise. Purchasing a pair of turtle-doves, Joseph places them, fluttering, in the hands of Mary, who soothes them in her bosom. Leaving now the outer court, they enter that of the women, through the gate called Beautiful, and crossing, ascend the fifteen steps conducting to the court of Israel, by the gate Nicanor.
Here they are met by the white-robed, mitered priest, who comes from the interior of the priests' court, and receives from the trembling virgin one of the glossy victims.
Bearing this in to the foot of the great brazen altar, he wrings off its head, and sprinkles its blood upon the side of the altar, and the rest of the blood he wrings out into the trench for that purpose, extending all around the altar's base. This is the sin offering.
Then returning, the priest receives the second victim at her hand, and, ascending from the left, or southern side, by an inclined plane of fifty feet in length, bears it toward the altar. Arriving at the top, he wrings off the head of this likewise, and casts it far upon the spacious
of the hearth, into the flame that never dies, but is kept forever burning from age to age. The blood of this, as of the other, he wrings from above into the trench below; then, plucking away the crop, with its contents, he casts it (passing by a ledge along the eastern side to the northern verge) down upon the place of the ashes. Then returning to the southern side, and taking a sacrificial knife, he cleaves the bird across the wings, yet without entirely dividing it, and casts it thus upon the hearth into the flames. This is the burnt sacrifice.
Then again returning, he receives from the hand of Joseph five small coins for the redemption of the first-born.
It is when these solemn ceremonies are completed, whose mystic import that agitated mother can scarce fathom, that through her veil she espies an aged man approaching, not of sacerdotal vesture, but venerable in mien, and filled with the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
He draws nigh the spot she occupies, apparently obeying a resistless impulse from some unseen power, and with a fire of exalted enthusiasm flashing in his eye. Taking from Mary's arms the child, and raising his eyes to heaven, he exclaims,
“Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, since 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 !"
Coming then still closer to her side, he adds, in a lower tone, and fixing his meaning glance
“For this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel, and for a sign that shall be spoken against, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed; yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also !"
Forth from among the by-standers totters now an aged matron, whom once before we met in the city streets, after the vision of the ministering Zacharias; and who, from that day, has taken up her abode in one of the numerous chambers in the interior of this vast fane, in order that, with prayer and fasting by night and day, she might await the coming of her Redeemer.
Now, with trembling voice and streaming eye, she renders thanks to God; and, laying hands upon the infant's head, testifies to all around that this is he who shall save them from their sins.
“This," she cries, “is he that is to be ruler in Israel, whose goings forth have been from of old, even from everlasting. Therefore he gave them up, until the time that she which travail. eth hath brought forth”-and as she speaks, the holy Anna bends her glance upon the virgin" then the remnant of his brethren shall return unto the children of Israel. And he shall stand and rule in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God, and they shall abide, for now shall he be great unto the ends of the earth! And he will assemble her that halteth, and gather her that is driven out, and he shall make her that halted a remnant, and her that was cast far off a strong nation, and he shall reign over them in Mount Zion from henceforth even forever. And thou, oh tower of the flock, the strong-hold of the daughter of Zion, unto thee shall it come, even the first dominion; the kingdom shall come to the daughter of Jerusalem !”
With difficulty extricating their child from the blessings, the tears of joy, the kindly hands of those whom these events have drawn to the spot, Mary and Joseph prepare to withdraw; and, followed by the wondering crowd, they escape from the Temple, overcome with their emotions. Amid whisperings, and blessings, and suppressed inquiries or open congratulations,
they descend, and in a few moments Mary is reposing in a pleasant apartment of a retired inn.
Her thoughts I strive incessantly to picture to myself, as, her husband being for a few moments absent, and mother and child left alone, she lays him on the lowly mattress by her side. She bends over him, intently gazing on his face, now veiled by those tresses of hers, which, escaping from their confinement, lie glistening on his pillow. Oh, could we see the changing expressions of her countenance! What deep and absorbing scrutiny is this she directs upon her child ? Is there some dark and hidden mystery about him which she can not penetrate? Does it begin faintly to glimmer on her soul that worldly renown is not, can not be all that awaits his coming career? What means that just uttered ominous declaration, “A sign that shall be spoken against; yea, a sword shall pierce through thine own soul also ?”
“Oh, my God!" methinks I hear her pray, "" what is the fate that overhangs my child ? What dirge is this ever and anon ringing in my ear, “He was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; he was cut off from the land of the living ? and why can not I shut it out? What is the whole mystery whose meaning my weak mother's-heart can not grasp ?"