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And a Sword Will Pierce Your Soul

And a Sword Will Pierce Your Soul

When most of us think of the Christmas story, we think of joy. The glory of Gabriel’s announcement, the miracle of the virgin birth, the fulfillment of aged prophecies and expectation. Christmas nativity scenes portray the beauty and wonder and peace of it all – even the angels proclaim to the shepherds “Peace on earth”. The people who heard of the savior’s birth were “amazed”, and Mary “treasured up all these things” in her heart. When we think about the Christmas story, we see the glow of candlelight and we hear the strains of “Silent Night”, and we are rightly drawn into the joy.

But there is another part of the Christmas story. One that’s not told so often. It’s the one with which I identify this Christmas.

It’s found in Luke Chapter 2, when Jesus’ parents took him to the temple to be consecrated to the Lord. While there, Mary and Joseph encountered a devout man named Simeon, who had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he saw the long-awaited Messiah. Upon seeing Jesus, Simeon immediately knew through the Holy Spirit that he was the One foretold by the prophets, the Savior of the world, and he praised God. Then he blesses the child, and tells Mary, “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”. Every bit of that lesser-known history is miraculous and worthy of awe-induced reflection. But it’s what Simeon tells Mary next that grabs me:

“And a sword will pierce your own soul, too”.

Sit on that for a moment.

This is Mary. The one “highly favored” by God. The one who was chosen to be impregnated by the Creator of the universe. The one the Lord found worthy of raising a part of Himself. Being told, by a man under the influence of God Himself, that she was going to feel the worst kind of pain imaginable. Because of this special God-child.

Kind of seems like a raw deal.

I mean, you’d think that if she were good enough to be given the job, she would have gotten some sort of a special benefits package. After all, she was carrying the Savior of the World. Kind of a “get out free” card in the game of life, entitling her to skip the pain this world offers. That’s how I would have planned it, anyway. Because that’s how we think things should work here on earth. People like Mary, the good people, shouldn’t have to suffer pain, we surmise. If you’re going to do the work of being the Savior’s Mommy, you should at least get some sort of recompense.

But then she gets those words from Simeon: “And a sword will pierce your own soul, too”. No, Mary certainly didn’t get a “get out free” card.

That’s because there isn’t one. There is no special way on this earth to skip the bad and only get the good, because the only place good is found is in God. God is the essence of good. It doesn’t exist without Him, but humanity decided it didn’t want God’s goodness. So, this world got what we chose – not goodness. Pain. God, through Simeon, told Mary. She lived on this earth, so she’d experience it. The soul-piercing. Death.

And what a soul piercing it is. I can say, with assurance, that Simeon’s description is right on. That’s exactly how it feels when the child you’ve awaited, the child you’ve wanted desperately, the child you were told by God you would have…later dies. Like being gutted, your insides scraped out. Not just your physical and emotional insides – your soul insides. And Mary certainly felt it. She was at the cross, when he died. Close enough to hear Jesus tell her, while hanging and slowly dying in misery, that John would take care of her as her son from that day forward. Close enough to see the anguish etched on his face and the flesh holes in his hands and feet, to smell the rusty blood scent on his body, to hear the ragged sounds of him struggling to take a breath. I only had to watch my baby slip away peacefully while being cradled and loved in our arms.

Mary couldn’t escape the pain of this earth. Not only that – God Himself had to go through the pain of this earth. Why is it we think that somehow we, who repeatedly and endlessly choose ourselves over God, should escape it? How is it that we, who have rejected the essence of Goodness, think that we can somehow still have goodness without having what Goodness is? The question is not whether we will have to go through pain in this life, but what else we will experience other than all of the pain.

God knew Mary would have her soul pierced in this life. God had his own soul pierced in this life. Those are the consequences embedded in a creation that is apart from Goodness. The pain is here; it will happen to all of us. Whether we choose, as Mary did, to say “I am your servant – do to me whatever you will”, or whether we say, “I’m not serving a God who allows this kind of pain”, the hurt will come. Our souls, like it or not, will be pierced. The difference, though, is in what happens through the pain and after it’s done.

Mary’s soul was pierced. But because her response was “Yes, Lord, do to me as you see fit”, sorrow is not the only thing she experienced.

She also got to be part of a miracle.

Mary’s life wasn’t defined by her pain; it was defined by her miracle. She got to do something no one else has ever done: to be the one to nurture God. She got to give human life and personhood to the One who would take away all of the pain we brought in, to be mom to the I AM who would restore goodness. She got to have a role in overcoming the very pain she had to endure.

Yeah, that’s even better than a “get out free” card.

We’re going to suffer while we’re on this earth. And it really, really hurts when it happens. Pierces, actually. But for me, I don’t want that to be all I know. I want the miracle. I want to experience, to be a part of the Goodness. While I’m here, in the midst of the pain, and after it’s all gone. And I know that the only way to do that is, like Mary, to say, “Lord, I am your servant”.

Isaiah 61:3 tells us that Jesus came “to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair” and that those who mourn and find him “will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor”. A crown of beauty. Joy. A garment of praise.  Splendor.  Yes.

This Christmas I will weep, because, like Mary, my soul has been pierced. But I’ve got Goodness, the One who redeemed all of this pain. The One who conquered this pain so I could live with joy even in the midst of it, and live pain-free forever after this life is over. The One who gave me better than a “get out free card”, by giving me a “Live out free” card. So I will rejoice, because, with Him, I also get to experience the miracle.

One Response to “And a Sword Will Pierce Your Soul”

  1. Melina Vaughan says:

    Thank you for blessing my heart again today. Thanks be to the God who gives us the hope of eternal life!

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