Monday, November 5, 2012

A Sword Through The Heart

The day my oldest daughter was born I couldn't help thinking of Mary.  Here I was in July, in an air-conditioned hospital room, hopped up on pain killers, following a C-section, and I am thinking about nativity scenes.  Weird, I know.  But I bet I am not the only Christian mom who looked at her own baby and thought of the mother of that holy baby. Mary was haunting my thoughts.

Luke records Mary's story almost as if he sat down and chatted with her.   He was inspired but he still did research (Luke 1:1-3). So I wonder about his source. Did he have her diary? Did he sit down with one of her children or an old familiar friend to record such intimate things? How did he know Mary "treasured these things in her heart?" (Luke 1-2) Regardless of his research materials, Luke lays out Mary's path, beginning with joy and confusion, passing through deep sorrow and landing soundly back in the land of joy.

After the angel delivers the astonishing news that she, a virgin, will conceive, she runs off to see Elizabeth. She declares in her song, "For the Mighty One has done great things for me" (Luke 1:49). Elizabeth names her blessed among women and Mary says that she will be counted as blessed for all generations.  The conversation between the two of them overflows with the idea that Mary has been gifted by God.

Yet only a few months later the story seems bleaker.  Joseph, hearing that the girl he never touched is pregnant, almost ends their engagement.  After angelic interference he remains betrothed to her, but it was not the marriage she envisioned. They remain celibate until after the baby's birth.  Not every young girl's dream.  When Augustus' fiscal policy crashes through their life, things get even worse.  Swinging a heavy belly in front of her, Mary walks (my college professors thought that donkey thing was unlikely at best) all the way from Galilee to the overcrowded Bethlehem.

Far from her home and family, far from all the things she would have carefully prepared for her baby, she gives birth to the son of God. This blessing thing doesn't seem to be working out for Mary.  An unexpected twist brings some shepherds in to see the new baby.  So instead of the parade of adoring grandparents she might have had, she has a parade of shepherds. Instead of old friends comfortably passing the news about the weight and length of her little son, she has shepherds proclaiming all through the streets that the her son's birth was hailed by an angelic chorus.
Mary was blessed and that very blessing caused her pain. Although the idea seems a little strange at the outset, it is the story of being a mom.  We see the double lines on the stick and we cry with joy.  Even moms who regretted a pregnancy find it impossible not to delight in those tiny little fingers and tiny little toes.  Yet no child is brought into the world without pain. The 5-year old who brings us daisies is the 15 year old who screams, "I hate you" across the house.

If we stopped here, with the end of the Christmas story, things don't look too bad. On the eighth day, Mary and Joseph head to Jerusalem to circumcise Jesus.  In a lesser known story they meet two elderly people, Simeon and Anna, who see the infant Savior and instantly know who he is.  Simeon breaks up what till now has been a relatively cheerful tale. Who doesn't love Christmas? He looks at Mary and says, "and a sword will pierce even your own soul."  That doesn't sound like a story with a happy ending.

When our children are born, we aren't promised happy endings.  I have a friend whose son was born with several birth defects that will prevent him from reaching adulthood.  I know a couple whose middle school aged daughter has been diagnosed with a terminal illness. I knew an elderly couple who though 10 years removed from the event, never made it back to full functioning after the death of their daughter.  I can't imagine a more accurate description of the horror of losing a child than "a sword will pierce even your own soul."

Jesus had two parents standing by the cross.  One watched from Heaven and the other from earth.  I cannot comprehend what it must have cost both of them.  But I understand Mary the better of the two.   When I think of the "fellowship of His sufferings," it's Mary that comes to mind. (2 Corinthians 1:5, Philippians 3:10, 1 Peter 2:21, 4:13).

I can mouth the words, "suffer with Christ," but Mary stood there and watched her oldest child, the one she played patty-cake with, the one she gave baths to, the one she watched take his first step, die.  I've given baths and played patty cake, so I can begin to imagine how I could share in His sufferings.  I have a friend who's a missionary.  When she left home it broke her mother's heart.  Having a mom with enough faith to send her anyway healed my friend's heart.  What comfort it must have been for Jesus to look down and see Mary there suffering alongside him.

The day my oldest girl was born my feet were set on a path of blessing and suffering, and I began to learn what it is like to be Mary. I want to suffer at the sight of my Savior's suffering.  More than that, I want to stop whining about the minuscule things I suffer for Him.  Mary's story ends in joy.  Her son went from the Suffering Servant to the resurrected glorified Messiah.  Even if we have to follow Mary's path all the way to the end, we have the hope that we too shall be reunited with our children in glory.

Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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