“Simeon went on to bless them, and said to Mary his mother,
This child marks both the failure and
the recovery of many in Israel,
A figure misunderstood and contradicted—
the pain of a sword-thrust through you—
But the rejection will force honesty,
as God reveals who they really are.”
Luke 2:33-35 (MSG)
As I was studying the story of Christmas, I came across this passage. Picture the scene. Mary and Joseph, a godly couple, are coming to get their miracle baby properly dedicated according to the laws of Moses. I imagine that despite the crazy events leading to the birth, that today they are in good spirits. They’ve seen angles, been adored by shepherds and wisemen, and they were probably full of anticipation about what raising Jesus, a man whose name meant “God Saves,” might mean.
No doubt they, like many others, saw the Messiah as coming down and bringing justice to the earth, lifting oppression from the land, crushing those pesky Romans, and making everything perfect and wonderful and better. And so when a strange old man approaches them, asking them if he could prophesy over their promised child, my guess is that they were like “sure, the more blessings, the better.”
What came next was anything but expected. Instead of waxing on about how their lives over the next several years is going to be a bowl of peaches, he turns to Mary and tells her that this Christ child will be a polarizing character–misunderstood, misquoted, rejected. He even tells Mary that her baby will bring about a pain in her own life so severe that it will be as a sword piercing her very soul.
Not exactly the kind of news you’d like to hear coming from a seer. But that’s the whole paradox of the Christmas season. While the Christmas holiday is a glorious day, we have to remember that the whole reason Christ came to this earth was to suffer. Simeon knew this and prophesied it. It’s about Christ’s deliberate, willing, and redemptive suffering for mankind. Christ came to this earth, not to enjoy a long, plump life, but to suffer at the hands of His own creation. His life was marked by pain from the very beginning.
And consequently, so was Mary’s. By choosing to follow God’s plan, she brought pain onto herself. This, too, is a sobering thought. “Mary,” said Simeon, “this child will wretch pain into the very core of your being. But from it a greater good will come.” Christ later tells His disciples, “no servant is greater than his master. Since I have suffered, those who follow Me will also suffer.”
So this Christmas, as we remember the joys of the holiday–the time with family and friends, the wonderful foods and candies, the twinkle in children’s eyes–let us also not forget the real reason the baby Christ came to this earth. It was to endure great suffering so that we could be saved. And that is a reason to celebrate.