Last Christmas, because of extended unemployment and a dwindling bank account, I left my apartment and moved in with generous friends who have a spare room and even bigger hearts. I spent my days working a part-time retail job and padding around their house trying to will myself to open LinkedIn for yet another day.
One morning the house was quiet, the Christmas tree up, it was raining outside, and I sat down by the fireplace with a cup of coffee and a book I wanted to finish. Hurting and weary, sitting on the floor by that tree was the only thing I could muster up that day.
I believe with all my heart that season of unemployment was ordained. I was intended to sit on the sidelines for a while. The need to produce, drive and succeed needed to die and it was a slow fade. To date, this was the hardest season of my life.
Two people pop up in the middle of Jesus’ birth story who are my patron saints of Advent.
Here’s where we are in the nativity narrative when we first see them: Mary and Joseph’s pregnancy is the subject of Galilean gossip. Compelled by an overreaching government, Joseph loaded Mary – more than likely with contractions coming at a pretty rapid clip – up in a caravan of other folks traveling back to Bethlehem. Because a million other peopled were doing the same, they had nowhere solid to stay. Mary gave birth on the floor of a cave in a town not their own and put her baby in an animal feeding trough. There were terrifying angels sprinkled in.
And now at the end of it all, Mary and Joseph kept the Jewish custom and brought their firstborn son to be presented at the Jerusalem temple, where they meet Simeon and Anna.
Simeon, a man at the temple (Maybe a priest? Maybe simply a devout man), had one belief that marked him – he would not die before meeting the Messiah. Anna, a widow for eighty-four long years, had chosen to spend her remaining days in the temple praying for the redemption of Israel. Both waiting for the Savior to come. The same outrageous faith that marked Mary and Joseph in Nazareth was in the hearts of two strangers in Jerusalem.
As Mary hands her baby over to the elderly priest, Simeon looks straight at Mary and speaks what is to come.
“…and a sword is going to pierce through your own soul.”
Mary, a sword will pierce through your own soul.
Mary and Joseph held a fulfilled promise incarnate their very arms. Simeon blessed the very Messiah that would save his life and flip tables in his temple. The journey was difficult, but now is the time of fulfillment and blessing, a time of celebration and joy, marked with angel choirs and running shepherds.
Mary, a sword will pierce through your own soul.
The unexplained pregnancy, hard labor on a dirt floor, the sheer weight of raising the Christ child was only the beginning. Take in your arms everything this child will give you, every promise fulfilled because the road ahead will pierce you through.
It will not be easy.
It will be worth it.
In losing my job, I stepped away from one season to the next holding a boat-load of promises in my arms with no idea how difficult the coming months would be. Weary days drug on to weary months and eventually weary years. “This is best. This is best. This is best,” a mantra only half-heartedly believed and repeated. The Lord pierced me through.
I’m prone to fall into the trap of believing that if I suffer for a while, I can cash the check. Let my allocated days of hurt pass by and the rest will be beautiful and easy. If I endure birth on a dirt floor, then I’ll rest in peace.
That day in the temple, Simeon told Mary she was only at the edge of what would come. Joseph taught his boy how to whittle wood. Mary pulled her son into the stock room and pointed to a bunch of empty wine vats. They lost their son in the temple. Mary listened as Jesus asked his friends, “Who is my mother?” Mary watched her son die. Jesus’ parents showed up for every part. Even the parts that pierced them through.
Where did we get the idea that following Jesus would be easy? Or that his favor is marked by rainbows, butterflies, and full bank accounts? Simeon, Anna, Mary, Joseph, the shepherds – all chosen, all blessed by the here-and-now Savior – and nothing about their story was easy.
It is the Lord’s favor that allows us to walk the hardest of roads. He uses that pain to change us. And this is love. Though our western-y, bible belt-y way of believing has taught otherwise when God comes and scoops our dragon-selfs and throws us into the healing lake, we will come out stinging but more like ourselves and more like Jesus (C.S. Lewis). This. is. love.
For those this Christmas who have pierced hearts and feeble faith, I’m with you. I’m hurting in a thousand ways. We are in good company. Mary and a whole host of biblical characters were too. He hasn’t forgotten us. If it takes a world turned upside down and a road ahead that is less than perfect to allow me to experience more love, I’ll be there for it all.
I’m showing up for every part. I hope you will too.