And a sword will pierce your own soul too (Luke 2:35).
Simeon had been dead for decades.
Not that Mary knew this. She might have suspected it to be so - after all, how could such an elderly man have lived another 33 years? But we have no reason to believe that Mary actually knew anything about Simeon’s death.
Imagination plays with this silent part of the story, allowing Simeon to walk away after speaking his prophetic word of blessing over the infant Jesus, perhaps living a little longer to tell the story, and then one night going to bed and falling into a sleep long promised from which he would never wake.
Simeon had been dead for decades – but what he had spoken to Mary had lived on. Mary had heard and seen many things about her son that she treasured in her heart, silently pondering and praying over them through the years. The words of Simeon had echoed in her mind time and time again.
“This child is destined to cause the falling an rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)
On this day, Simeon long dead, she remembered him. Saw again his wrinkled hands reaching for her son. Saw again his moist eyes and weathered face raised to heaven in gratitude. Remembered again her momentary fear as this man had taken her son into his arms. Remembered again his words. “And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
And standing on a hill not far from that Jerusalem temple, watching the agony of her child, she felt the sword pierce deep.
At this season of the year we love stories of the Christ child. Mangers and livestock, shepherds and wisemen. An infant in swaddling clothes. Angelic hosts announcing the birth in David’s city. We go eagerly to see it again every year.
But Simeon reminds us where all of this is going. This child is the dividing line of history. Some will rise to new life because of him. Others will stumble and fall. He will be adored and spoken against, believed or rejected. Over the manger and the child the cross looms large. As Vic Pentz reminded us Sunday, we cannot separate the incarnation from the crucifixion.
But we try. We much prefer a cross-less Christmas. We had rather not have that shadow lingering over our “happy holidays.” Still, all who are invited to adore the Christ child will also be invited to follow Jesus of Nazareth. And to follow Jesus is to take up a cross.
The same Isaiah who said that a child was born unto us also spoke of a man acquainted with sorrow, one by whose stripes we are healed.
This week, if you’ve been thinking of Simeon as a sweet old man, benign and harmless, think again. Simeon speaks to us about a sword and stumbling and our hearts being exposed. Simeon readies us for the cross. Like Mary, we would do well to treasure these things in our hearts.
Lord Jesus, we often celebrate your birth without the soul piercing reality of the cross. Remind us today of why you came, and give us power in this season of the year to be people who love sacrificially. Teach us what it means to take up a cross and follow you at Christmas time. And as we follow, make us truly joyful people, we pray. Amen.