I’ve got good news and bad news
I will never be a new mother. I guess that goes without saying, but I did get to watch Michelle become a new mother. We have a picture of the first time she held Isaiah (our oldest). She is holding him tight, with red eyes, tears running down her cheek, overwhelmed by the power of knowing that new life came from her and that she was now a mother. There was a love that existed in a matter of moments as deep as most loves fashioned over years. That picture depicts a depth of joy that can’t be explained in words.
This is a story about a new mother. Mary has been a mother for eight days. And as overwhelmed as any new mother feels about having a child, Mary must have felt it even more than others. Gabriel, the angel who stands at the right hand of God had come and told her that this would be no ordinary child. This child would be the Son of God himself. A child conceived by the power of God. This child would recover the throne of David, his ancestor, and rule over the kingdom of God forever. I can’t imagine the depths of the awe and wonder that Mary experienced in these first days after she had borne the promised child. Her child was going to make the greatest difference of anyone in history—more than any other king, president, scientist, or celebrity ever could. How do you comprehend something as big as that?
When Mary and Joseph arrived at the temple to offer the required sacrifices and dedicate their son, God’s Son, back to God, they were greeted by an old prophet named Simeon. God had given Simeon a very special promise. He told Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the Messiah. Well Simeon took one look at Jesus and sang out to God:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in
For my eyes have seen your salvati0n,
which you have prepared in the sight
of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and the glory of your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
Not that Mary needed another confirmation of the special identity of her infant boy. She’d already had the visit of an angel and conceived without being with a man, but I’m sure it warmed her heart to hear yet another confirmation from this holy man. Another assurance that Jesus really was who she believed he was. Despite all she’d heard and experienced to this point, she still marveled at what Simeon said. She locked eyes with Joseph and shared and unspoken awe. Her son, Jesus, had such a bright future, and she’d be right there with him as his mother.
But then something happened that Mary wasn’t expecting—and something she could have done without. Simeon turned and faced Mary directly. He looked into her eyes with a gaze that bore into her soul and said,
“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. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34b-35)
You know that tension in your chest when you start to fear that something’s terribly wrong? Like when you come home and the door is wide open or when the doctor calls you after some tests and speaks in a somber tone. Fear wraps its fingers around your heart. As Mary processed Simeon’s words she must have had that same tension leap up and surround her. What was that he said? Jesus, her little baby, would be responsible for the rising and falling of many in Israel? What did it mean that people would fall because of Jesus? He’ll be a sign that will be spoken against? That doesn’t sound good. Why would anyone speak against him? And that last thing—that a sword would pierce her soul. That sounded horrible—like a depth of pain she’d never want to experience.
Simeon was right in what he told Mary:
It must have been hard for Mary not to see her son often. Most kids learned a trade and stayed in the same town as the rest of their family. So while most mothers in Nazareth were having dinner with their grown children, Mary was wondering if Jesus had a place to sleep at night. I’m sure the times when she was able to go see him were special. There was one time when she and some of her other sons went to pay Jesus a visit. They came to the house where he was teaching and it was so packed they couldn’t get inside. One of the people in the crowd recognized Mary and pushed his way inside within shouting distance of Jesus.
“Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.” He replied to him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” Pointing to his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mt. 12:46-50)
Mary and her sons turned away and went back home. On that day the pain Simeon talked about was real.
But nothing could compare to what happened not too long after that. Mary listened as the buzz about her son Jesus grew. Some of it was positive, but it became increasingly clear that the leaders of Israel were anything but positive about Jesus. Then one day Mary got the news that her son had been arrested. She rushed to Jerusalem to see what would happen—hoping it was all a big misunderstanding. But there was not a happy ending for her. A couple days later she watched as her son faltered down the road under the weight of an enormous wooden cross. She saw his bloody back from the whippings and endured the pain as people shouted profanity at him and spit on his face.
In John 19:25 it says that Mary stood near the cross as her son was crucified. You can almost see her glancing up, hoping he would miraculously come down. After all, the God who had given her this child certainly could still save him. Then she watched as a spear pierced his side and blood and water flowed out—he was dead. And at that moment Simeon’s words rang horribly true, “a sword will pierce your own soul.”
What Simeon told Mary, and then Mary experienced, was something that would be true for everyone connected to Jesus, during his life all the way through our current time. People who love and follow Jesus experience life, freedom, hope, joy, peace, love, and salvation in a way that no one else in the world possibly could. But like her, they also experience pain, trials, and difficulties because of him. It isn’t all good news.
The pain associated with clinging to Jesus was greater for Mary than it could ever be for us. So how did she respond? Did she run from the pain? Did she distance herself from him to avoid it? Did she give up the great news that had been proclaimed about her son because of the bad news she had to endure?
The last time Mary is mentioned in Scripture is in Acts 1:14. She is in a room full of those who believe in Jesus, his life, death, and resurrection. “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
The bad news associated with Jesus was as bad for Mary as it could possibly be for anyone. Yet the great news of who he was and what he did overwhelmed the bad. Mary kept her faith in her son, the Son of God, the Messiah. She believed the great news and the bad could not overcome it.
Let the same be true for us.