The Sword that pierces

When Simeon saw the infant Jesus, he was overcome with joy at the revelation of God. His song of praise was followed by a blessing on his parents. And then something unexpected, odd, uninvited. Is it a warning?

I have often pondered Mary’s response to Simeon’s prophecy in the temple upon Jesus’ dedication. Simeon gave glowing confirmation that Jesus was God’s Messiah sent as the Savior of the world. What joy and delight this must have brought to her mother’s heart! She already knew Jesus was the Messiah, but to have a well-respected man of God announce it with such confidence had to be a high point. Then came the crushing blow.  I can just imagine him pausing, gazing solemnly into Mary’s eyes, and offering her this grave kernel of prophecy: “And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

What must Mary have thought of that last phrase?  Simeon’s prophecy put in motion a period of waiting fraught with both expectation and dread. What kind of anticipation mingled with consternation must she have faced as she watched her son, the God-man grow and mature? And three decades later as she stood beneath the cross grieving for her precious firstborn, did these words come back in haunting clarity? Her wait, her hope, her expectations had never included a cross on a lonely hill where her son would die a criminal’s death. Just as Simeon could not have imagined what God had in store; nor could Mary.

Mary felt the sword pierce her soul in the very event that brought life to that soul. Jesus’ agonizing death on the cross was an absolute necessity in the plan of God for the redemption of man’s soul. Mary needed Her Son to be her Savior, as surely as any of us do. The agony she faced was essential to her ultimate joy.

But that did not mean her grief was easy to bear. Her wait was not over at the cross, even if she thought it was. Three days later the joy of Jesus’ resurrection brought new delight to her pierced and bleeding heart. The wonder and dread of Simeon’s prophecy culminated in the revelation of God’s amazing salvation plan so beautifully wrought in her Son’s life, death, and resurrection.

At this time of year we celebrate His advent—God with us, Immanuel. We celebrate knowing the import of Simeon’s prophecy: that His death paid our debt and His resurrection offers us life. Yet like Mary we have been given words that mingle pain with  hope: “In this life, you would have tribulation, but take heart, I have overcome the world.”  Tribulation, suffering, pain, but take heart! His first coming assures us that He has indeed overcome the world. His promises were true then, and they are true now. His love guarantees it.  The sword that pierces brings life.

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