What does a mother do when she holds this in her arms?
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given: and the government shall be upon His shoulder: and His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:2,6
And what does she make of these words, spoken tenderly from an old man to a young mother:
“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 you own soul too.”
And after Simeon, wise and old, “righteous and devout” finishes blessing the child and cautioning Mary of the future troubles, ancient Anna hobbles up and with a great smile, toothless no doubt, nearly blind at eighty-four years of age, begins to praise Yahweh for this baby who would be the “redemption of Israel”.
He would cause the falling and rising, the dividing and the symbol, the revealer of the secret thoughts of men, and the sword that would pierce his own mother’s heart. And he would be the redemption.
Simeon had nearly declared he could die a happy man having met the Messiah child:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation which you have prepared in the sight of all people, and light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”
Redeemer! Light of truth to the Gentiles (that’s us!)! Savior of all!
And the busy temple court teemed with people of all ranks, all sizes and there at the temple for different purposes. No light from heaven came down that morning while Mary and Joseph fulfilled their duty by bringing their firstborn son to be presented at the temple (a Jewish custom that signified the remembrance of the Passover, the dark night of death that preceded the Hebrews’ release from Egyptian slavery); the Heavens didn’t part; the veil that blocked the Holy of Holies from view was not torn in two; the earth didn’t shake.
Instead the crowds milled about, doing the business with God they’d come to do. Another boy presented at the temple, no big deal.
So Mary and Joseph turned toward Nazareth, toward their hometown to begin a new life together, as parents, alongside their friends and family. As they left the busy temple and the bustling city of Jerusalem, they trod over rocky desert soil, along well-beaten paths toward home. A normal life?
And I believe the tip of that soul-piercing sword pressed against Mary even then. For the dreams of any mother are full of success and victory and happiness, and she held the words spoken by Simeon forever in her memory: falling and rising, spoken against, sword will pierce your soul, too.” His gnarled, wrinkled hand gently passed from the child’s head to Mary’s cheek, perhaps, because he knew the blow he’d dealt to a young woman, full of dreams for her baby boy.
And the pain from Simeon’s words served her well. She would do what a mother should: understand that the world is a terrible place to live, and it’s risky bringing an innocent, dependent bundle of helplessness into such a world, but we feed and wipe little noses and teach manners and sing and play and pray with them and every day, knowing that the bad news always accompanies the good.
We present them in our hearts to God:
Protect this little one. Help me do right by him. Help me show him grace yet guide him in truth.
The weight of motherhood is as great as its joy, but how much greater for Mary, who received the Son of God into her womb and into her life but also received the terrible words of sorrow?
And with Joseph and Mary, “the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him”.
The tip of the sword pressed always upon her heart, and one day the grief of her crucified son would thrust its blade clear through, but she would go on singing, cooking, serving, loving, hoping, remembering the words of bitter and sweet hope spoken over his tiny head. She would find strength to mother the Son of God and the Son of Man from the faith that grew in the tender place where that sword remained.
And she called herself blessed.