The final observation I want to make about Jesus’ birth is that it was accompanied by a sense of impending doom.
According to Levitical law (Lev 12.2-8) Jesus was dedicated in the temple when he was 41 days old. Luke records the blessing of Jesus by Simeon and then his ominous words to Mary, this young teenager already overwhelmed by the events of the past ten months:
“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.” (Luk 2. 34, 35 ESV)
Though Mary understood exactly who Jesus was and what He would do, she was reminded that His rise to notoriety in Israel, His ministry to His own people and His eventual gruesome death as a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of the world would be marked by anguish in her own soul. As Jesus grew and His amazing spiritual perception and authority became known to the leaders of Israel (Luk 2.41-51), Mary “treasured up all these things in her heart.”
Imagine being a new mother, just a teenager yourself, and raising a child who never disobeyed, never deceived, never demonstrated any bad attitudes or sinful behaviour of any kind. Mary’s sense of her own ineptitude as a mother would have been exacerbated by Jesus’ perfection, and the arrival of normal children after him would have been quite a shock! Simmering in her mind were the abiding suspicion and slander of the Jews, memories of Jesus’ birth and the death of many other little boys because of Herod’s jealousy (John the Baptizer was evidently old enough to escape the sword), and the knowledge that His life would be marked by sorrow and his ministry largely rejected and ended by violence.
As I write these words I can’t help but sing to myself the haunting tenor passage from Part II of Messiah:
“Thy rebuke hath broken his heart; He is full of heaviness; He looked for some to have pity on Him, but there was no man, neither found He any to comfort Him…Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto His sorrow…He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of Thy people was He stricken.”
Though we celebrate Jesus’ birth with great rejoicing and festivity, we must not forget the sinister side of the incarnation. We must not forget that Jesus was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” The real joy–joy unspeakable and full of glory–will come in heaven when the true meaning of His birth becomes radiantly, gloriously, eternally clear to us!