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The Hopes and Fears of All the Years
by Tom Goodman
December 24, 2014

"A sword will pierce your soul."

That's a strange thing to say to a new mom, but it was said to Mary by an old man as he held her newborn son in his arms.  He prophesied of Jesus, "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel."  Then he added a prediction of Mary's future: "And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:22-35)

This is Christmas?  Yes.

It's the joy of shepherds, and the wonder of Wise Men, and the celebration of angels, and the light of Bethlehem . . .

. . . and the flight into Egypt, and the slaughter of innocents (Matthew 2:13-18), and an ancient dragon with plans to devour the Child the moment he was born (Revelation 12:4), and this foreboding of a future event that would pierce Mary's soul like a sword.

Failure to reflect on the whole story results in what Russell Moore calls "the unbearable lightness of Christmas."  In other words, when all we have is half a Christmas story, the bright and happy half, we have a hard time imagining how the story applies to the rough and tumble of our own lives.

Please, let's not forget the astonished joy of the story, or we'll deny the activity of God on our behalf.  But let's not forget the darker elements of the story, either, or we'll deny the reality of our messy, tragic world.

It seems impossible we could remember both sides of the story at the same time.  Maybe we should just focus on the joyful parts on those holiday seasons when life is going our way, and then reflect on the darker parts during the holiday seasons when life hurts.

No, that's not the way to do Christmas.

Instead, we know that "tears can sing and joy shed tears," as Bruce Cockburn put it.  In those years when our Christmas is clouded with heartbreak we must stubbornly rejoice with the shepherds who heard angels sing.  Their report is still true and still good.   And in the years when there's hardly room on our Christmas cards to tell all the wonderful news that's happened to our family, we must not ignore the prophecy of this sword to pierce Mary's soul.  Live long enough and your soul will be pierced, too.

The hopes and fears of all the years were met in the little town of Bethlehem.

Hopes and fears.  Met.  This is Christmas.


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