Mary, the Theotokos, meaning the God-bearer, had the glory of the Lord within her womb, just as the glory of the Lord filled the temple. God both spiritually and literally dwelled inside her and this feast day points a little "further up and further in" towards the focus of the Nativity fast: the Incarnation of the God-man, Jesus Christ. This is exemplified by a hymn known as "The Prelude" that is chanted today which directs us to majesty of the Nativity.
Church Tradition tells us that Mary was born to Joachim and Anna. Anna was barren, so Joachim and Anna prayed that if they would have a child it would be dedicated to the service of God. Their request was granted and they were given a girl who they named Mary. True to their word, when Mary reached the age of three they took her to the temple on November 21st. She was led to the temple by a procession of temple virgins and her parents, fulfilling the prophecy of Psalms 45:11-18:
Today is the prelude of God's goodwill and the prophecy of the salvation of men. The Virgin appears openly in the temple of God and foretells Christ to all. So let us cry to her with loud voices: Rejoice, thou who art the fulfillment of the Creator's providence.
"Hear, O daughter, and see; turn your ear, forget your people and your father's house. So shall the king desire your beauty; for he is your lord, and you must worship him.... All glorious is the king's daughter as she enters; her raiment is threaded with spun gold. In embroidered apparel she is borne in to the king; behind her the virgins of her train are brought to you. They are borne in with gladness and joy; they enter the palace of the king. The place of your fathers your sons shal
l have; you shall make them princes through all the land. I will make your name memorable through all generations; therefore shall nations praise you forever and ever."
When they arrived at the temple, her parents placed her on the first step. She ran to the top where she was greeted by the High Priest Zachariah, who would become the father of John the Baptist. Zachariah "was outside himself and possessed by God" and led Mary into the Holy of Holies!
Mary lived in the temple for 12 years till she reached the age of 15. She lived in the quarters around the temple with others who had dedicated themselves to God and prayer. When she had come of age she was betrothed to Joseph and we are all familiar with the rest of the story.
On this day, three scripture readings from the Old Testament are read in the Church. Exodus 40, 1 Kings 7-8, and Ezekiel 43. All three mention the glory of the Lord filling the tabernacle. The epistle reading is from Hebrews 9 which also refers to the tabernacle of the old covenant. The church is pointing to Mary as being a fulfillment of the physical temple by becoming a living temple. When we contemplate Mary on this day and what has happened in her, our thoughts are directed to all humanity and that we are purposed to be living temples of God.
Though the Nativity fast has started a week ago, today is the first time we hear the Nativity canons in the church. Fr. Alexander Schmemann says, "With these words something changes in our life, in the very air we breathe, in the entire mood of the Church’s life. It is as if we perceive far, far away, the first light of the greatest possible joy — the coming of God into His world! Thus the Church announces the coming of Christ, the Incarnation of God, His entrance into the world for its salvation."
The Nativity Canon
Christ is born, glorify Him.
Christ is come from heaven, receive ye him.
Christ is on earth, be ye elevated.
P.S. In Discourse on the Feast of the Entry of Our Most Pure Lady the Theotokos into the Holy of Holies by Saint Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, he asks if we know a good tree by its good fruit and Mary gave birth to Jesus (the firstfruits), what kind of tree was Mary?