She must have been exhausted.
Eight days after giving birth unexpectedly, in a stable, in the cold of a desert winter night, after a long journey in abject poverty, the Law demands she get up and carry that baby to the temple. Mary and Joseph are obedient to the Law. They go. Somehow, they buy two turtledoves to take as their poor offering. They stumble to the temple, exhausted, destitute, knowing no one in a strange city, to fulfill the Law of God.
She must have been traumatized.
Imagine the emotional turmoil of giving birth. Imagine how it feels when it’s over, even when everything went just fine. Then imagine it under these circumstances. Imagine giving birth in a strange town you’ve been sent to by occupying government forces that don’t regard you as human. Imagine showing up to that overcrowded town in labor, with no shelter.
She must have wanted some consolation– someone to hold her and tell her the worst was over, the trauma was all done, she’d go on and be a normal mother now. Her life would be safe and ordinary. The baby would grow up to be a carpenter like his foster-father, He would take care of her in her old age, and everything would be all right.
But that’s not what she heard.
Simeon, that strange old man, took the baby in his arms. His words for himself were triumph and relief. “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace; your word has been fulfilled: my own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people: a light to reveal you to the nations and the glory of your people Israel. “
Simeon’s suffering is over.
Hers is only beginning. Simeon has no comfort for her. “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”
It seems like gratuitous cruelty, but it’s only the truth. It is not going to be all right– not for a very long time. The worst is far from over, for her.
She has conceived and born a Son, as the angel promised. To bear a child is the most terrible responsibility. A mother gives birth, knowing that because her child is alive, her child is going to suffer. Her child is going to know suffering, disappointment, loss, trauma. And, someday, her child is going to die. Giving birth means becoming the mother of a creature that is doomed to die. So it is for every mother. Even more so for Mary.
Her Son is destined to cause the rise and fall of many in Israel. What do we do to people who cause the lowly to rise, and the great to fall? We fight them. We must. The rise and fall of many means the upheaval of everything we think we know. We have to fight back or risk losing our normal, safe and ordinary lives. So, her Son will be opposed by many.
Her Son is destined to reveal the deepest thoughts of many hearts. We can’t have that. We mustn’t allow it. No one can know the selfishness we’ve hidden. We can’t even face it ourselves. So her Son will be opposed by many.
And, before it’s over, a sword will pierce her very soul.
It pierced her then– the sword of exhaustion, grief and trauma. The sword of knowing that she’d given birth to a Son who was destined to suffer. The sword of knowing that it was far, far from over.
And so the work of her Son began; so He began to cause the rise and fall of many. Poor, exhausted, homeless and traumatized mothers everywhere were raised to the highest place. It was one of them– not a man, not a warrior, not a priest, not a king– one of those that the world counts as worthless, who became the living Ark of the Covenant. She became the Tabernacle, the Ciboria. She bore the Lord to Bethlehem and into the temple, to the faithful who had waited a thousand years. She bore the Lord to the arms of Simeon, to fulfill the law of God.
Simeon’s ordeal was over, and Mary’s began.
(image via Pixabay)
(Steel Magnificat will be meditating on the Seven Joys and Seven Sorrows of Mary throughout the Nativity Fast.)