It’s what you give, not get
You know how people are with a newborn! It’s all felicitations and congratulations. In this story, though, there is a pop.
Mary and Joseph are stellar Jewish parents. They take their firstborn to the temple forty days after his birth for the purification offering (Luke 2:22-35). This is both custom and law. And it is all good.
Passersby hold curious expressions. Many smile at this new mom, dad, and their little bambino. The cooing baby is the centerpiece, after all. It’s a beautiful celebration.
And who doesn’t love a party?
A righteous and devout man named Simeon appears. Mary naturally hands Jesus over to this aged sage who, scripture says, has the Holy Spirit upon him. Hearts swell. This is the Big Deal. The moment couldn’t get more precious.
Simeon shines with the baby in his arms. Anticipation rises. He says, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall. When the baby Jesus grows up, he will often be despised and rejected (reference to Isaiah 53:3). He will be lied about and falsely accused. This child is “set for” (or will cause) the fall and rising again of many in Israel. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed.”
He’s not finished. Parenthetically, he adds one more piece to Mary alone. “And a sword will pierce your heart.”
Ouch! Who wants to hear this when they’re in the presence of their newborn on the Big Day?
Maybe this isn’t a pop as much as it is a blessing, an emotional roadmap of what is to come. Starting with the visit from the Angel Gabriel announcing her forthcoming pregnancy, Mary has already had quite the journey with Jesus. First, she had to explain to those closest to her how she became pregnant, and THAT raised a few eyebrows. Next, Joseph could have nixed their engagement and left her literally destitute. Now this? A sword piercing her heart?
She may have recalled what the angel said when he told her she’d give birth to the Son of Man. The angel had said, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end (Luke 1:30-33).”
Adding one plus one, Mary does the math. God has found favor with her. YES! Now she learns a sword will pierce her heart. Also yes.
If you realize God has found favor with you (He has), then a sword will pierce your heart, too. This walk with Jesus isn’t a blessing walk for you. It’s not an “Oh, look what I get because I’m following Jesus.” Instead, it’s “Oh, look what I can give because I am following Jesus.”
Peter, Andrew, James, John, Paul and Silas all came to understand what Mary understood after Simeon had shared his prophecy because, like Mary, these souls would also be pierced by that “sword.” Each would fall before God. Broken in shame and humbled in repentance, these followers understood what we can understand: it is no longer about us but how God lives through us.
I am certain someone’s jaw dropped when they overheard what Simeon had shared with Mary. “What!” This young mom? A sword? Really?”
I don’t think Mary’s jaw dropped. She may have been surprised—maybe even stunned in the moment—but as our good and gentle God was present to her, our good and gentle God is present to us. In time, she owned what we can own. There is no selfishness to Christianity. It is what Simeon knows full well. It is all service.
This blog first appeared in The Independent on January 9, 2019.
I’ve posted dozens and dozens of photos and art pieces with my posts. This is my first comment on anything I’ve shared. This picture of Simeon and baby Jesus speaks not a thousand words to me, but a hundred thousand words. In this art, I see a religious man’s greatest moment, the culmination of all of his years of faithful service. To hold the One who would forever change the world? Our artist here captures this unearthly sensation masterfully.