“Mary Never Knew What Was Coming Next”: A Devotion for the First Sunday after Christmas
Mary never knew what was coming next. Normality became a tease. Just about the time it seemed her life might mellow into ho-hum everydayness for a first century Jewish girl, something, or someone, new would pop around the corner. One minute she’s an engaged, virgin teenager, and the next a heavenly being pays her a visit to inform her she’s about to begin her first trimester with God in her womb. Nine months later, on the night of her baby boy’s nativity, shepherds come a-calling, mouths agape with wild stories of angels singing to them in the countryside, telling them that in Bethlehem they’d lay eyes on the Savior of the world. And now, when Mary and Joseph journey to Jerusalem with baby Jesus, to fulfill the sacrifices required by the law of Moses, two more people come along to rock their world.
First, there’s Simeon. He’s the kind of man for whom waiting is a way of life. Not a mere twiddling-the-thumbs variety of waiting, yawning away the hours, but hope-full waiting, the kind of waiting that knows that, sooner or later, God will make good on his promise. The promise was this: before he saw death, he would see the Lord’s Christ. The babe for whom Adam hoped; for whom Noah longed; of whom David sang and Isaiah preached; the Redeemer for whom every son and daughter of Abraham had been yearning—that One Simeon would cradle in his arms. And he did. He held not just a theoretical promise but a living person, God’s love and mercy and compassion in the flesh. To this baby, and to the baby’s Father, Simeon sang a lullaby and hymn rolled into one, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel, ” (Luke 2:29-32 ESV).
As Simeon sang, up walked Anna, an elderly woman who had made God’s house her own, fasting and praying, day and night, within the temple walls. With Simeon she joined in a sort of prophetic duet, showering thanks on the Lord who not only makes, but keeps, promises. And like a giddy Grandma, who can’t stop talking about her newborn grandson, Anna spread the news far and wide of this child who was born to redeem Israel, and the world.
But amidst all this singing and smiling, all these new wonders for Mary, there was a reality check as well. Her life would be full of surprises that would cheer, as well as pierce, her maternal heart. For after Simeon sang his song of praise, he turned to Mary and announced, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed,” (Luke 2:34-35 ESV).
For when all the “Silent Nights” and “Oh, Little Town of Bethlehems” are sung, when we’ve all become dewy-eyed over the diapered deity swaddled in the manger, there remains the reality that God did not send his Son into the world to make us feel all warm and fuzzy inside. He came to redeem a broken world, and to do that would require hurt and pain and blood and all sorts of raw suffering. His was a messy mission. And Mary, his mother, would be part of the mess, for a sword would pierce her own heart. She who once placed her two hands on her extended belly, wondering what kind of boy she would have, stood drenched in tears as she looked up at that boy, now a man, whose two hands were extended upon the cross-beams, drenched in blood, to save her and the messy world he so loves. Each nail that pierced his hands, each thorn that bit into his brow, the spear that punctured his side—they all were part of the sword of sorrow that was thrust deep into her own heart.
Mary never knew what was coming next. And neither do we. Each day has the potential to usher in breathtaking joy or heart-wrenching sorrow or anything in between. But whatever happens, in one way or another, we’re usually going through one mess or on our way to another. Life just works that way. Day and night, happiness and sadness, birthdays and funerals. There’s all ingredients in the soup we call “life.”
But Christ is also part of the mix. And he’s the most important part, for he is The Constant. His love is the sun that never sets, the smile that never fades. His mercy is the flower that never wilts, the hand that always grips. His compassion is an ocean that knows no beaches, for on and on and still onward it stretches.
To “see salvation” in Christ—as Simeon did—is to see more than being “saved” from hell or sin. For Christ saves us from a life empty of God, and makes our life one in which God fills us and lives through us. Mary carried Jesus in her womb, and everywhere he went, so did she. And so we carry Christ in us, everywhere we go. And to us as well as through us he speaks, he acts, he loves. And he redeems the mess our life often becomes. When swords pierce our hearts, he is there to heal us with own life-giving wounds. For each of us is as precious to him—no, even more precious—than life itself.