Sunday after Christmas
Sword that Pierces the Churchís Soul
the celebration of the incarnation of the Son of God. The almighty God has become a little baby.
It is a wonderful mystery that we embrace in simple faith.
Christmas is such a beloved holiday because it presents to us our
God in such a friendly and peaceful way.
He is a baby. Even
though we cannot understand how God can become one of us, we look at the
baby of Bethlehem and we know that God means us no harm.
He sleeps peacefully in His mother's arms and all is well.
All is calm, all is bright, and we sing of heavenly peace. He comes to bless this world and he offends no one in any
But he does
Who could take
offense at a baby? Certainly
God did not come into this world to cause offense.
He came to save sinners. But
it was his very mission that guaranteed controversy and offense. He offended the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes, and
the ruling priests and elders. He
offended the church leaders of his day.
He so offended them that they plotted his death, slandered his
name, and screamed curses against him after he was nailed to the cross.
What was Mary
thinking when Simeon told her of the sword that would pierce through her
very soul? How well did she
know the Holy Scriptures that taught the promised Savior would cause
many to stumble and fall? God
had written through the prophet Isaiah:
Jesus could not
have come into this world to do what God promised he would do without
causing people to stumble and fall over Him.
When Simeon came to bless Mary and Joseph, he came also to speak
Godís word of prophecy to her to prepare her for what was ahead.
The peace and goodwill of which the angels sang would kindle a
fire, it would cause incredible opposition.
The innocent Child, the newborn King, would stir up more anger,
more opposition, and more hatred than she ever could have imagined.
remembered Simeonís prophecy when she witnessed her Sonís bitter
suffering on the cross. When
she heard the cries of bloodlust come from the hate-filled mob and when
she could see that it was the highest and holiest of the religious
leaders who had stirred up the crowd against her innocent Son, she would
remember. And she would
thank God for the blessing that Simeon bestowed.
We should not
discount the suffering of Mary. If
she, the mother of Jesus, should have to suffer to watch her Son
despised, forsaken, and hated, should we not learn from this?
The beautiful carols, and brightly lit trees, the smiling faces
of happy children, the celebrations with family and friends, the food,
the drink, and the worldwide celebration of that holy birth should not
keep us from considering the suffering of Mary, the sword that pierced
Let me tell you
why. It certainly isnít
because Maryís suffering has merited Godís grace for us.
Christ alone is the Mediator before the heavenly throne. Christ alone is the Redeemer of the human race.
Mary did not contribute to it. We
do not put our trust in her mediation, but in the merits of Christ
alone. But we consider her
suffering because God saw fit to speak of it through Simeon.
Her suffering is like that of the church.
Just as Mary
saw the high and mighty, the respected and outwardly holy, the praised
and the prominent religious leaders of her day look upon her Son with
perplexity and contempt, but not in faith and adoration, likewise, the
church must witness the same thing throughout the ages.
Whoever said that to be a Christian is always to be popular,
never read the Bible or took it to heart.
Whoever thought that the life of the Christian is a life of one
reward after another, never listened to biblical prophecy.
The fact is that Jesus, that innocent and holy Child, would grow
into manhood in order to throw down the highly exalted from their
position of respect and exalt the lowly into positions of honor.
ďA sign which
will be spoken against,Ē Simeon said.
And so it has been. Not
only in Jesusí life of humble service and His death on the cross, but
throughout history, the true Jesus has stood as the sign spoken against,
the cornerstone rejected, the Anointed One of God against whom the
religions and rulers of this world conspired and sought to destroy.
offends the proud. The very
same people who will smile at the inoffensive baby in the manger will
walk away in anger from the fully grown Savior who insists that He is
the only way to the Father. The
little One says nothing. The
grown Jesus speaks the word of his Father, the word that indicts and
condemns all of humanity for its sin and the word that promises
forgiveness and life to all who repent of their sin and trust in him.
Those who trust in their own virtue hate Him and they fall.
Those who hate their own sin and trust in Him who in the fullness
of time redeemed them from the curse of the law are adopted as sons of
God and are raised up and honored.
The very idea that a personís status before God depends
entirely on his relationship with Jesus cannot be tolerated by this
world. To teach that no one
can find eternal life except through faith in the obedience and
suffering of Jesus Ė true God and true man Ė is to teach that every
other religion in the world is fundamentally useless.
No wonder they hate Jesus.
No wonder they
hate the church. Look at
the sword pierce Maryís soul and watch that sword pierce the soul of
the church, not just once, but continuously, throughout history, as the
church must live under the same ignominy, shame, persecution, and hatred
as her Lord. Yes, the mother of our Lord suffered the pain of seeing her
Child suffer. The sword
that pierced her soul was more than that, however.
It was witnessing her people rejecting Her Sonís love. As St. John put it, ďHe was in the world, and the world was
made through Him, and the world did not know Him.
He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.Ē (John
It hurts to
witness unbelief. It hurts
to see hatred fight against love. It
hurts to see people reject the only hope they have for eternal life. It hurts. Surely,
Mary knew her Child would suffer. But
to witness the crowds turning against Him, the most respected of the
people despising and hating Him, and knowing in her heart that her dear
Son came only to love the loveless and to bring forgiveness to unworthy
sinners, that cut and that hurt.
So we, too, as
Christís church here on earth, must be prepared for the same piercing
sorrow. I donít want to
take away from the joy of this holy season, far from it, I pray that it
remains with us throughout the New Year.
But the joy is not without suffering.
The joy is in spite of suffering.
When the hearts of unbelief are revealed, that hurts.
When what we love and cherish is despised, that hurts.
This Christmas gospel is that in which we put our trust and for
which we are willing to die with the certainty that we will go to heaven
and live with our gracious God forever.
When this gospel and our faith are ignored or ridiculed or
despised we are not surprised. We
know ahead of time that this will happen.
Why should the Church among whom God chooses to live today be any
different than the mother from whom God chose to be born and with whom
He chose to grow into manhood? The
sword that pierced her soul pierces our soul as well.
And knowing this, we are not afraid.
prepares us to respond. How
sad it is when Christian become embittered against those who despise the
gospel, as if bitterness will win over the hearts of Godís enemies. When we know ahead of time that the church will be persecuted
even as her Lord was persecuted we are prepared to meet that persecution
with love. God calls on His
children to endure the pain of seeing His love rejected without giving
way to hatred. How can we
hate those for whom Jesus was born, lived, and gave us His life?
The sword that pierces the soul of Mary and the church cannot
undo the love God has for us in Christ.
That is the love that is poured out into our hearts by the Holy
Spirit who enables us to rejoice in suffering.
We have the right to call God, Father.
The pain does
not mean that we have failed or that God has forsaken His church.
He faithfully warned us of what we would face and even now guides
us through it. When our
faith is despised and we with it, we know that God raises us up and
honors us for Christís sake. That
is more precious than the honor of the world.
So let the
sword pierce our soul as it pierced the soul of Mary the dear mother of
our Lord. In life and in
death we will hold on to our soulís Savior, Jesus Christ our God and
Rev. Rolf D. Preus