Simeon’s Passion prophecy becomes quite specific…the contradiction against the Son is also directed against the mother and it cuts her to the heart. For her, the Cross of radical contradiction becomes the sword that pierces her soul. From Mary we can learn that what true com-passion is: quite unsentimentally assuming the sufferings of others as one’s own. — Pope Benedict XVI
In 2015, my wife Karen and I went to Chile to visit our daughter Erin and her partner, Pablo. They live in a little town about an hour’s drive out of Santiago, the capital of Chile.
After we booked our flights, Erin announced that she was pregnant. She’d be about halfway through her pregnancy by the time we arrived. So that added an extra dimension to our journey.
A few days after we arrived, we went into Santiago to meet Pablo’s family. Pablo stopped the car on a side street, a mixture of houses and small office buildings. Erin told us that they had some business there and invited us to come up to the first-floor office they were going to.
It didn’t take us long to realise that we were in a radiologist’s place, and that Erin was having an ultrasound. Fair enough, I thought—she’s killing two birds with one stone, fitting the family get-together and the ultrasound into the same visit. We’d wait.
When it came time for Erin to go in, she waved us to come in too. It was a total surprise. When we saw this little human inside our daughter, Karen and I just fell in love with her. Oh yes, and we learnt that day that Erin was having a girl. Her name would be Emilia.
That was over two years ago now, and now Emilia is our Chilean–Australian granddaughter. She doesn’t know it yet, but she is growing up bilingual. She is learning Spanish and English words for things. In time, her brain will sort it all out and she’ll be fluent in both languages.
I was talking to her on Boxing Day over FaceTime. (This technology is just wonderful!) Emilia wanted to show me some of her plastic animal figures. She showed me the first one, and said it was a cabra, a goat. Soon, she showed me a rabbit. I wanted to show off my Spanish, so I said it’s a conejo. She looked crossly at me, and corrected me: “Rabbit!”
Later, my daughter explained that even though Emilia is learning both Spanish and English words, she is deciding which one she prefers. So, according to Emilia a goat is a cabra; and a rabbit is, well, a rabbit.
When Karen and I saw that little bundle in the ultrasound, we had no idea what was in front of us. Now we have a delightful two-year old granddaughter, and we still don’t really know what’s ahead of us.
When Mary and Joseph brought Jesus into the Temple, they didn’t know what was ahead of them either.
They were doing what was required of them, as observant Jews. They brought a sacrifice with them, two young pigeons. This was the sacrifice that poor people brought; if you could afford it, you brought two lambs.
What was ahead of them? What did the future hold for Jesus?
These are questions any parent asks.
But Jesus had had a bit of a buildup, hadn’t he? Visited by shepherds who told stories of angels singing in the sky; Mary herself had been visited by the Angel Gabriel. What was his future to be?
Enter Simeon and Anna.
Old Man Simeon was waiting to see the Messiah. When he saw Jesus, he knew that the promises of God had been fulfilled.
Anna too recognised the baby for who he was, and praised God and told everyone about it.
Of course, Mary and Joseph were “amazed” by what was being said about Jesus.
But Simeon also pointed to the pain that was to come:
This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.
Luke’s Gospel really emphasises that the kingdom of God turns everything upside down. In Luke, Mary sings:
He has brought down the powerful
from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
In Luke, Jesus says
Blessed are you who are hungry now,
for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.…
But woe to you who are rich,
for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now,
for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Luke stands in the great prophetic tradition that proclaims that God lifts up the humble and the needy, and brings the proud and powerful ones down low.
Luke’s Jesus says “Woe!” to those who are comfortable now.
Of course, the proud and powerful and comfortable don’t like that. They resist. They enlist the power of the state against the prophet who declares God’s Word.
And this is a sword that pierces Mary’s heart.
She is, after all, his mother. How could she not deeply feel her Son’s pain?
We see here the beginning of the salvation that God has brought in Christ. A poor family is entrusted with the care of the Saviour. They may only be able to bring a couple of pigeons for their sacrifice, but this is a home of love and care.
Today, if they were coming to Australia, they may end up on Nauru. Or Joseph could be on Manus Is. Thank goodness that they came at the right time, as Paul says in Galatians 4.
This story teaches us to look at things from the point of view of people who are poor and in need. People like Mary and Joseph. If we are comfortable in the things of the body, we need to learn discomfort over what happens to the powerless in our world. Then we need to do something about it, as people of Jesus.
This story of our salvation is a human story as well as a divine story. How could it be any other way, if Jesus is God-made-flesh? The human details of the piercing of Mary’s heart are just as important as the great theological concepts of incarnation and justification.
We know the story. This baby grew to face great opposition. He was crucified.
He became, as Simeon said, a light to the Gentiles. (That’s us!)
I began by talking about our granddaughter, Emilia. We don’t know what will become of any of our children as they grow. We do know that they are not the Saviour, because that is who Jesus is.
We do hope and pray that our children will allow the Christlight to shine upon them as they grow. Let us pray for our children, that they may grow to be followers of the Saviour. Let us pray for ourselves, that we will hold that Christlight clearly for them.