–Originally published on FWB21 December 31, 2011–
Christmas is over, family members have gone, and I finally have a moment to flesh out something that has been constantly on my mind this Christmas season: joy and suffering go hand in hand.
Specifically, my thoughts have been on Mary throughout this Christmas season. As a mother, I connect with her more than any other player on the scene of God’s great incarnation. As we celebrate Christ and the reason He came to earth, I remember a phrase from the familiar story of His birth:
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)
As a child, I imagined that this was a kind of daydreamy meditation of joy, but the more deeply the story is ingrained upon my adult conscience, I get the impression that this may have been more of a sense of foreboding. A kind of joy tinged with an unexplainable sadness. I mean, how would Luke have known this bit of information, except Mary had told him? And since Luke was recording it in retrospect of Christ’s death and resurrection, it seems to me that Mary had made the connection between this feeling and what she would see from the foot of the cross some 33 years later.
Pondering this, I began to consider all of Mary’s life. Elizabeth calls her “blessed among women” in Luke 1, but with that blessing came great suffering. Mary was likely scorned and rejected by many who did not believe the whole “virgin-birth” line–even Joseph wanted to put her away, until an angel convinced him otherwise! Mary had to give birth to her first child–a scary thing in itself–in a dirty stable in an unfamiliar place “with no mother’s hand to hold.” (from “Labor of Love“) Just the birth in itself brought a great deal of suffering that Mary would not have otherwise endured. But that is not all.
Just a few verses later in chapter 2, Luke recounts Simeon’s words to the new mother at Jesus’ presentation at the Temple:
Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.
That’s not the typical blessing a young mother hears for her new baby! If Mary didn’t have that sense of foreboding before, she certainly did now!
As a parent, I can tell you that it is difficult to watch your children experience pain. And I have heard that one of the most painful losses one can experience is the death of a child. Mary had to endure both of these. Not only did her son experience pain and death after a life of scorn and rejection, He was tortured in the most cruel way before her very eyes, leading to a painful and humiliating death.
Talk about having your soul pierced! What suffering Mary must have endured!
But then, on the third day, imagine. No single person could have experienced greater joy than did Mary the mother of Jesus that resurrection morning. What tears of joy she must have wept upon the full realization that Jesus was not only alive, but He had also brought salvation to Israel and the nations!
When God chose Mary to bring Jesus into the world, He knew that bestowing such joy and blessing would also bring great pain and suffering. By the same token, when God chose us to walk the path that we are on, He knew that doing so would cause us to suffer many things. But great is our joy in suffering, for we have a Redeemer who lives, One who has experienced suffering Himself and Who walks with us in our pain. What glorious hope we have in Christ!