Luke 2: 1-20
Mary Pondered These Words In Her Heart
The Christmas story is one that we know. Many of us know the story by heart. And we have heard the story year after year. But have you ever wondered why we even have this story, or why we have any of the stories that at Spring Hill United Methodist we’ve read over the last four weeks? Stories like the visit of the angel Gabriel to Elizabeth, to Zachariah, to Mary? Stories like this one?
Most of the people in the story are either too young to remember it or they do not show up again in the gospels when the stories begin to really pick up. Elizabeth, Zachariah, and Joseph are all gone from the story by the time we get to John the Baptist and the baptism of Jesus at the beginning of the main crux of the gospels. No one is there except Mary, who is the only person old enough during these events to remember them, yet young enough to still show up when the gospels main story comes around.
We have the stories because Mary pondered them in her heart; she treasured these stories, she remembered the stories, she thought on the stories. And eventually she told the stories. She was the first evangelist, or at least one of the first evangelists. I wonder, does the story mean as much to us as it was to her? Are we as ready to share the story?
I guess the next question would be: what is the story? What did she ponder? The story really begins in Nazareth, several miles to the north. Mary and Joseph are getting ready to have the baby, she’s eight months pregnant, and the Romans come and say, “there’s a census to be had.” So Joseph needs to travel to Bethlehem where he’s expected and will be counted with his family. And so they pack up and they go. Joseph, not wanting to leave Mary in an unwelcoming town for her unwed pregnancy, takes her along. And because he takes her along, and it’s a hard journey, she slows them down and they arrive to Bethlehem last. And there’s no room for them. Well, if they want to, they can go sleep with the animals, but there’s no room for her in normal places.
They finally settle in among the cows and the donkeys and the animals and Mary’s water breaks. And everything goes crazy at that moment. Hopefully Joseph’s family comes in because you know Joseph is in way over his head, and they birth the baby in the stable. And Mary takes the baby, and she wraps him in cloth, and she lays him in the feeding trough. And finally things get quieted down. Joseph’s family, hopefully, gives them a break. Joseph passes out next to the cows. Hopefully Mary gets a break and Joseph’s family is willing to at least take first shift so that she can rest.
Suddenly and loudly there is a group of shepherds that are coming into town. They’re talking about this thing that it happened out in the field; with angels and singing and light. Now the shepherds are not welcome in the city: shepherds are liars, they’re criminals, they’re undesirables, they must stay on their side of the city wall. But these shepherds will not take no for an answer. They are coming talking of newborns lying in mangers, and angels, and they’re asking to see this sign they have been promised. These people who never talk of the God they aren’t allowed near in worship, now will not stop talking of Angels, and God, and Messiahs, and babies.
So they take them to Mary and they wake her, because I mean how much special treatment can an unwed mother really expect to get? She’s really lucky we give her anything at all. And at the very least she will throw them out like inconsequential crazy rabble that they are, and they’ll finally be quiet. But Mary doesn’t. I wonder if Mary had pondered over her own angelic visit that she had just nine months earlier, when the angel Gabriel came and told her she will be having this very baby. No, she doesn’t write them off as crazy, but she hears them out. And maybe she’s beginning to recognize how God is coming to those whom society believes do not matter. And she ponders what they say in her heart.
Something tells me she didn’t stop pondering things. That when Jesus is 12 they would go to Jerusalem, and they would leave Jerusalem and head back home, but Jesus wouldn’t be with them. And they would ultimately find him in the temple, teaching the priests, saying this was his father’s house. And she pondered these things in her heart.
She’s at a wedding of a loved one and they run out of wine, and she tells her son do something, and he takes five barrels of water and he turns them into wine; and it is the best wine she to this day has ever tasted. And she pondered these things in her heart.
5000 people litter to a shoreline and her son takes five loaves of bread and two fish, and he feeds all 5000 of them with 12 baskets of leftovers. And she pondered these things in her heart.
He gathers the disciples into a room, and he takes bread and he says “this is my body which is broken for you,” and he takes wine and says “this is my blood that was shed for you.” And she pondered these things in her heart.
Her son stands before the high priest, arrested, and is mocked. He stands before the Roman governor and is whipped. And he’s hung on a cross, and he breathes his last, and he tells her that she has a new son now. And she pondered these things in her heart
She gets up early on Sunday morning as she goes to her son’s tomb, and finds that the stone has been rolled away, and the body is missing. Her son appears to her, and says that he has been raised from the dead, and so can she. And she pondered these things in her heart.
She’s with 120 of his followers in that same upper room, and suddenly fire appears and rests on each of them, and suddenly they are able to talk in languages she knows they did not speak five seconds ago. And she pondered these things in her heart.
And what did she understand from that? I think she saw that her son stopped to care for others, and he looked upon the lowly with compassion. He would stop and care for, and show love to the one who simply wanted to touch his cloak as he passed by. I think she saw that he healed the sick, that he hung out with the lepers, that he advocated for the poor; that he ate with tax collectors and sinners. And she pondered these things. I wonder if the Isaiah passage that was read at the candle lighting tonight came into her mind: “For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Or maybe the passage that Jesus quoted in his first sermon in Nazareth:
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Or maybe she went all the way back to those words but the angel Gabriel spoke to her when he visited her: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.”
I like to think that maybe Mary was the first one to declare to the disciples of Jesus that his arrival was “good news.” Because the observant Mary had seen how Jesus was actively good news to the poor, the outcast, the misfit, the “not-normal,” the one living a lie that only they know, the old, the young, the somewhere-in-the-middle, the sinner who knows she’s a sinner and the sinner who thinks he’s a saint.
And she pondered these things in her heart
Maybe that is you today. This night, Christmas Eve, announces the birth of our Savior; God come as a baby. And that God cares about you; yes even you, and you, and you, and you. This God invites you to come into his embrace, to come home, to experience the goodness of being in His presence. And maybe once you’ve had your fill, once you are alive again in spirit, to go forth back into the world and to share that experience with others so that even more might have the ability to come back home.
Many of you hear this story every year. Many of you know the story. But let me ask you: do you ponder it? Do you let it sit there? Do you think about it? Do you allow the baby Jesus to sit in your feeding trough?
A pastor I know says this every Christmas: he says that he is often asked if he really believes this, “do you really believe God came as a baby? Like God would willingly go through puberty? And would willingly die? And if that God died would actually be able to come back to life? Do you really believe that? That sounds crazy.” And his answer is my answer: “not only do I believe it, I am counting on it.” This is my plan for what comes after this and I do not have a Plan B. If this idea of trusting in Jesus, in following Jesus, and doing what he calls me to do, doesn’t work I don’t have another plan. That’s everything; that’s what I’m counting on.
I have not regretted that, not for a second. So I would invite you to count on him, to commit yourself to following what he says to do, to commit yourself to his guidance in your life. So I’d invite you to pray with me in this moment. If you are ready to say, “yes, Lord, I want to know you, to know your peace that surpasses all understanding, to know the embrace, to follow this God that that cares for the lowly and those who don’t have it all together and the ones were struggling.” If that is you tonight, and you are ready to pray that prayer with me, whether for the first time, or for the hundredth time or for the thousandth time, I invite you just simply to place your hands on it on your lap in front of you as if you are ready to receive the Spirit. And pray with me: “God, I thank you for Jesus, whom you sent to be a light to guide my path. I am ready to follow that light. I am ready to turn from my sins, to do more what I am called to do. I commit to following and serving you Lord. Wash me clean, and create in me a new spirit that will be a light to all those around me, as you have been to me. Lord, I commit to following your son, Jesus, my Savior, in whose name I pray. Amen.”