Sunday 19 March 2023 Mothering Sunday
The joy and pain of Mary the mother of Jesus
Context: morning service in a Methodist church; mainly older Methodists drawn from the local urban area; one or two students; some cultural diversity
Aim: to reflect on the complexity and consequences of the human and divine in Jesus through the eyes of Mary his mother
From the beginning, when the angel told her that she had been chosen to bear God’s son, Mary would have understood that raising this child would be complicated. In this short passage, Luke shows the reader how Mary’s natural instincts to protect and care for her human child are interwoven with the recognition that Jesus is also God’s son, born with a holy purpose to save all God’s people.
DOING THE RIGHT THING
Luke is concerned to tell his readers that Jesus was born into a Jewish family who observed the religious laws. The baby Jesus had been circumcised and named (Luke 2:21), Mary had completed her time of purification after the birth (Luke 2:22) and now his parents were bringing their first-born son to the temple to be dedicated to God in accordance with Old Testament law (Exodus 13:2, 11-16).
Joseph and Mary were doing all they could to comply with the religious rules and give their baby the best start to life. Always underlying these traditional family practices was the knowledge that Jesus was no ordinary child, but a gift of God, his conception a divine miracle, his birth celebrated by angels, kings and shepherds.
All these holy events had caused Mary some concern already (Luke 2:19). She had accepted God’s will with graceful obedience but as a mother she had determined to raise Jesus in the same way as any other child of a loving family. Such an upbringing included a religious education in the Jewish faith. Later this foundational learning earned Jesus respect as a Jew of rabbinical status within the synagogue and gave him a legitimate platform from which to challenge the self-serving and outdated rules and attitudes of the religious leaders.
Although constantly aware of Jesus’ holiness, Mary and Joseph were amazed when Simeon instantly recognised God’s presence in her tiny baby.
As the faithful old man joyfully proclaimed Jesus’ destiny as saviour of all, perhaps Mary was touched by a shadow. What was this future that Simeon was declaring for her son? It was alarming to hear that this baby would have such a mighty task, to reveal God’s glory not only to the Jews but to the whole world. Such a wonderful and extraordinary work of God must have been totally beyond her comprehension.
Yet Simeon was so sure that this baby was the promised Messiah. His coming at last was a right cause for celebration and rejoicing, yes, but Mary’s instincts might have told her that such an almighty work of God would come at a cost. As Simeon blessed her baby, did Mary feel the same sensation of foreboding in the temple as she had in the stable at Bethlehem?
THE SWORD IN MARY’S HEART
Simeon’s prayers enveloped the little family, father, mother and son, in the warmth and love of God. But his prophecy about Jesus’ future actions was loaded with the threat of suffering to come.
The paradox of the intermingling of human and holy in Jesus was mirrored in Simeon’s pronouncement that Jesus would be the cause of people both ‘falling and rising’. His message of God’s love for all would present people with a decision to make — to follow him or to turn away from God, a choice between new life in Christ or death, rising or falling.
Choosing Jesus would not be easy; joy and pain would be mixed. Mary’s son, the source of such great rejoicing, would also bring trouble and difficulty. He will be opposed, Simeon tells Mary (v. 34), rejected by many, a situation which as his mother will cause her great grief and sorrow.
Verse 35 reads ‘a sword will pierce your own soul too’ (NIV).
Looking at her small baby, the very young cradled in the arms of the very old, Mary must have felt both the hope and joy of God’s presence in Jesus and the agony of knowing that the cost of bringing such light and glory into the world would be an unbearable grief. Such deep sharp pain would be felt by her as a mother at the foot of the cross, where the price she paid for her love of her son would be counted in tears, pain and joy forever entwined.
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