11 December 2012

nativity: 6

Joy and Sorrow.

Mary and Joseph bring their newborn child to the temple because of their devotion to law and sacrifice.  They remain faithful to their god, even when their situation (being pregnant and unwed) requires that they be ostracized because of the very law which they seek to fulfill in this scene.  It is a lesson in itself that we are to listen always to the one who stands behind the law over and above our own application of the law.  God has brought this salvation to his people - of this they are aware - even though many in Israel will reject it - of this they are learning.  When they encounter Simeon they receive a blessing and confirmation of the special quality this child possesses, but they also learn of the difficult path which will be required of them for the sake of the gospel.

"What Mary heard from Simeon stunned her.  Everything she had so far heard form angels and Joseph and relatives and shepherds and the Gentile magi suggested a victorious kind of Messiah, the sort of Messiah everyone embraced as God's hope for Israel.  Mary's son would be king of Israel, Simeon predicted,  Yet, this king-son of hers would also be rejected and maligned and made a center of controversy.  Mary was the mother of the Messiah.  Yes, but a 'sword' would pierce her soul" (McKnight, The Real Mary, 48).

The way of suffering is not popular, neither in Mary's world or in ours.  But it is necessary for those who choose to walk along the path of the gospel and receive God's kingdom of salvation.  The cross overshadows the nativity scene, and it overshadows our lives as well.  We must be mindful of that which is required of us, lest we fall away and prove to be faithless.  We need to remember, even amidst all of the joyous fanfare of Christmas celebration, that the Incarnation stands much bigger than our pageantry often realizes.  This is what Simeon gives to Mary, that she might know and understand the challenges which will be before her within the kingdom of God.

Mary is a woman of Joy, for she knows how to treasure these things in her heart (Luke 2:51).  She has the temperament to accept the laughter along with the pain and know that it is all working out as God's story.  This is how she could be so willing and accepting of this fateful journey when an angel told her of this incredible plan.  And this is how she hears Simeon and knows, deep within, that even the work of joy can be burdensome.  Mary must know that joy is not simple happiness, but that it carries sorrow and sacrifice.  It is not an emotional response, but a heavenly perspective of viewing the world.  That joy is the believer taking their place within God's very story, and treasuring all these things in their heart.

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