Friday, December 13, 2013

A Shadow over Bethlehem

And a sword will pierce your own soul too (Luke 2:35).

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. Time and time again the words of Simeon had echoed in her mind.

“This child is destined to cause the falling and 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, Mary remembered him. She saw again his wrinkled hands reaching for her son. She saw again his weathered face raised to heaven in gratitude. She remembered his peculiar and ominous words. “And a sword will piece your own soul too.”

On this day, 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 with their flocks and magi with their gifts, angelic hosts announcing the birth in David’s city. This is the story we love. This is what we gather to celebrate.

Simeon, however, 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. 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. Nevertheless, 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, we’ve pondered the darker side of the Christmas story. If you’ve ever been inclined to think 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.

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