An unlikely and sparse ‘family’ – Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna – assembles for the dedication of the new baby to God’s purpose early in Luke’s account. In common is a devout Jewish faith that opens them to mysterious promptings of the Spirit. They are two men, two women; two old, two young; two strangers, two intimates; two acting in obedience to the law of Moses, two moved by the Spirit; all 4 together blessing a singular young life to God. Four, four, four, four, one. It’s like a drumbeat that runs beneath the narrative revealing the many opposites held together in the unlikely community of Luke’s audience: a new family cast out of the old forms that brought them here, yet participant in the revelation of something immense that God is doing.
This kind of immensity is not cozy, but apocalyptic at both personal and social levels. The word revelation (literally apocalypsis) occurs twice in this passage. While the simple meaning is to uncover what has been hidden, the effect of that uncovering shakes both inner and outer structures.
The apocalypse is first glimpsed in Simeon’s announcement that the long-promised salvation of God is “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” The ‘consolation of Israel’ for which Simeon has been waiting and praying as a Jewish man breaks open into a wider ‘we’ that includes Gentiles. It’s not a sullying of God’s chosen people, but a reflection of their radiance. It’s both beautiful and shattering in the way only Grace can be. The new wholeness and integration totally disrupts the old forms. While old Simeon wants simply to ‘depart in peace,’ those left to wrangle this new Way into being have a difficult work ahead of them.
So comes the word to the child’s Jewish mother, both Mary the individual mother of this particular child Jesus, and the ‘Jewish Mother’ of tradition through whose blood the people of the covenant have been defined to this point:
Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “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)
This is the gift of God? It is.
The inner thoughts [literally dialogismos or the interior dialogue in which we ‘reckon up the reasons’ and come to conclusions] are the mental models that have preserved our life to bring us to this point of radical letting go. Can it be the nature of God to supply the meaning structures needed for growth and then to ask us to move beyond them for transformation? Ask the caterpillar in the cocoon.
Yet, everything in us personally and socially screams, “No!” and the battle is joined. Jesus the Christ is “to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed.” What a job description! The struggle itself is the mechanism of grace that allows the deep work of the Holy to create a new thing with us and among us.
This Way is both costly and saving. What if this ‘piercing of the soul’ is to life, the way a living sperm pierces the integrity of an egg for creation of something new and greater than the sum of its parts? The old structures necessarily give way to allow the new life to bring its gift.
Perhaps in the dawning of the 8th day of creation that coincides with the turning of the civil year in the west, we can ask to have the inner thoughts of our hearts revealed for the purposes of Grace in our world today, and for the grace needed to allow the piercing of our souls toward new life. Now that’s a resolution!
* This passage is one of the alternate readings for Christmas 1/ New Year’s Day in the year of Mark. Both second and fourth movements reveal aspects of the cost of the conscious journey.