Madonna of the LilliesToday is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It is the Octave of Christmas, the eighth day. It is hard to believe having a better sense of Christmas this year. My own family was blessed with the birth of a boy just a couple weeks before the coming of the Christ Child. Holding the tiny infant in my arms made me wonder in amazement at the love of God who came down to be so vulnerable for us.

Today used also to be the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, when Mary and Joseph took their new baby boy to the Temple. Simeon’s beautiful response echoes the themes of Christmas and Advent. There is a light in the darkness that  is not here but which comes, which arrives. This is why he can say: “My own eyes have seen the salvation which you have prepared in the sight of every people.” The light of Christ is seen by eyes, by his eyes and by the eyes of every people. It is a visible salvation. It is an incarnate salvation. It is not just a matter of deeds, but a person who is salvation. The Kingdom has come, and it is the babe in Mary’s arms.

It is striking, then, that after Simeon’s proclamation of joy, he turns to Mary and warns about her own pain and suffering. This is part of the Christmas celebration that I don’t ever want to forget. In the midst of the joy of a babe in arms, there is still the shadow of the cross that looms forever ahead of this boy. We celebrate Christmas with a Mass, which though joyful is still a remembrance of that ultimate suffering.

In the Temple, the shadow that is cast over the birth of the savior, over indeed this first drop of his blood being shed, is a shadow that falls upon his mother. She will suffer. In the context of our salvation it is Simeon who first tells us that Mary’s role is uniquely bound to the suffering that saves us. “A sword will pierce your soul too,” he says. He is looking at Mary. I imagine his boney finger pointing almost accusingly. “It is you,” he seems to say. “You will suffer.”

Mary, the Mother of God, will carry this dramatic prediction with her. I always love mary-mother-of-godthose images of Mary which manage to do at least two things. They show her availability, that is to you who want to speak to her, to have her listen to your aches and worries. They also show a pensive Mary, somehow always pondering the shadow of suffering in the back of her mind.

As we plan to meet out our hope for a new year which stretches before us, let us remember Mary, the Mother of God who waits at the start of this year for us. She waits for us to approach her when we hurt so that she can tell us all will be alright. She waits for us to ask about her son, about whom she loves to talk. She waits with a pierced soul and open heart.