…Simeon, holding Jesus in his arms, has spoken these beautiful words about Mary and Joseph’s newborn son, but then the scene takes a turn. I envision his smile slowly fading as he exhales and gently hands Jesus back to Mary. And as he does, he gently and lovingly, but also clearly and firmly says these hard words: “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.”
Simeon is not naive. He is devout, full of faith, and full of wisdom. He knows that rescue, restoration, and redemption do not come easy. For these always come by upsetting the current political, religious, and social structures. And for this there is always a high price to pay. In order to rescue, restore and redeem, Jesus is going to have to call out and expose the systemic sin in Israel’s current way of being. Some will rise to this, others will resist and fall. And in rescuing, restoring and redeeming, the true desires and conditions of people’s hearts will be revealed. One cannot do this kind of work without exposing things like greed, slander and malice, both in ourselves and in our systems. This work that Jesus will do, this life that he will live is so, so good, but it is so, so hard. It is, as Simeon says it will be for Mary, piercing.
As we journey through this life of Christ, may we all pay particular attention to what he’s really doing and really saying. Pay attention to how challenging it is both for the systems of his day and ours today, as well as for the people of his day and us today. To step into the life of Christ is to step into a mirror for our souls, at both personal and social levels. In it we will and should see great beauty, but, as we talked about at Aldersgate UMC last Fall, we will and should also see a beast. We must embrace both. If we resist either, we will fall. I pray that I will have courage to let him hold that mirror up to my soul, and that I will fully step into whatever it is a see there, let him in, and let him raise me to new life.