A Heart Piercing Sign

FIRST SUNDAY OF CHRISTMAS

Isaiah 61:10-62:3
Psalm 148
Galatians 4:4-7
Luke 2:22-40

Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, you wonderfully created the dignity of human nature and yet more wonderfully restored it. In your mercy, let us share the divine life of the one who came to share our humanity, Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

“This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” Luke 2:34-35.

I was only nine or ten at the height of the civil rights movement in the 1960s and only vaguely aware of what it was all about. After all, I was growing up in Bremerton, Washington. That is a long way from Selma, Alabama. Unlike those backwards southerners, we had no Jim Crow laws, no segregated schools and we got on just fine with people of color-or so we thought. Ours was a fully integrated and enlightened town without a hint of racism.

But as Martin Luther King, Jr. started to make headlines, I began to see another side of our community. There was much discussion about King among the adults in my home, church and neighborhood. “He’s got some good points, but he has to tone it down,” said some. “Discrimination down south is a terrible thing,” said others. “But King is pushing for too much change too fast. He’s only making things worse for his own people.” Our pastor expressed the view that, while segregation is clearly unjust, no Christian, much less a pastor, should be breaking the law in order address it. “One unjust act cannot justify another.” Some in our community were awakened for the first time to the depth of racial injustice in our midst and spoke out boldly in defense of Dr. King. Others spoke of him in disparaging terms it would serve no purpose to repeat. Suffice to say that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was in our community “a sign that [was] opposed so that the inner thoughts of many [were] revealed.”

Being a “sign” is a hazardous occupation. For both Jesus and Dr. King it ended with a violent death. And there was collateral damage also. As Simeon foretold, the sword of grief did indeed pierce the heart of Mary, Mother of our Lord. So also, I am sure, it pierced the soul of Coretta Scott King. We cannot allow the terrible cost of the Incarnation to get lost in the sentimentality that so often surrounds our celebration of the Nativity. The song of the angels, the wonder of the shepherds and the worship of the magi bear witness to the marvelous sign of God’s generosity in the birth of this child, Jesus. But so also does the gut wrenching cry of Rachel weeping for her children. Matthew 2:16-18.

The naked truth is that the best God had to give, God’s very self, is destined to be rejected cruelly by each of us in our own way. If we can find the courage to enter into the divine drama of Jesus’ obedient life and faithful death, our inner thoughts will surely be revealed. If we are honest, we will find ourselves with the crowds that came to Jesus for what he could give them with no thought of following him. We will find ourselves among the disciples who are consumed with rivalry, self promotion and power, but often show little interest or understanding of the reign of God Jesus proclaims. We will find ourselves among those who feared that Jesus was a dangerous and destabilizing influence and among those who would silence him when he challenges our grip on power and privilege. A prophetic sign lances a boil, revealing sickness of which we are unaware. It is painful and unpleasant, but essential for healing.

Over this last year we have encountered many signs that have “revealed the inner thoughts of many.” They have names like George Floyd, Brianna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Let me say from the outset that there is nothing good, nothing redemptive, nothing meaningful in the senseless murders of these innocents. Nevertheless, if we can view them through the prism of the sign that is Mary’s child, they can become for us signs that lay bare our wounded souls, the prejudice holding us in bondage and the grievous injuries they inflict on our neighbors. That, in itself, is not the healing and reconciliation for which God yearns. But it is a necessary first step. And, of course, we have to begin somewhere.

Here is an anonymous poem reflecting Mary’s realization of the sign that will be her son’s destiny and the “sword” that will one day pierce her through.

Jesus Comforts His Mother

A baby is borne us blis to bring;
A maidden, I hard, “Loullay,” sing:
“Dere son, now leive thy wepping,

Thy fadere is the King of Blis.”

“Nay! Dere modere, for you weppe I noght,
But for thinges that shall be wroght,
Or that I have mankind iboght.

Was ther never pain like it, iwis.”

“Pes! dere sone, say thou me not so.
Thou art my child, I have no mo.
Alas! That I shuld see this wo:

It were to me gret heivynis.”

“My hondes, modere, that ye now see,
Thay shall be nailed one a tree;
My feit, also, fastned shall be:

Full mony shall wepe that it shall see.”

“Alas! dere son, sorrow now is my happe
To see my child that soukes my pappe
So ruthfully taken out of my lappe.

It were to me gret heivynis.”

“Also, modere, ther shall a speire
My tendere hert all to-teire:
The blud shall kevere my body there.

Gret ruthe it shall be to see.”

“A! dere sone, that is a heivy cas.
When Gabrell knelled before my face
And said, ‘Heille! Lady, full of grace,’

He never told me nothing of this.

“Dere modere, pes! Nowe I you pray,
And take no sorrow for that I say,
But singe this song, ‘By, by, loullay,’

To drive away all heivynis.”

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