What a Christmas it’s been! It has certainly been unlike any that I’ve known before. But, isn’t that the way with Christmas? This season of the heart seems to surprise as often as not.
It was a surprise to the Grinch when it came without ribbons, it came without tags, it came without packages, boxes or bags. Well, in Whoville they say, the Grinch’s small heart grew three sizes that day.
The Ghosts of Christmas may be haunting, cajoling, and fearful but they may inspire in us a reaction like Ebenezer Scrooge’s, “I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.”
The surprising lessons of Christmas have so much to teach a willing heart. Even today, there is a joyful mystery before us in the gospel of Luke. It’s a particular treasure, this story, unique to Luke’s gospel and the only glimpse of Jesus we see between the events of his birth and his baptism. Introducing the gospel, the author makes clear the intent, “I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you…so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed.”
I can imagine Luke gathering stories from all his apostle friends, finally getting a chance to sit down with mother Mary and quizzing her especially on all the things she knew about Jesus from his childhood. But how would she ever begin to tell of what had happened to her? How one day, a simple teenage Jewish girl in Nazareth, became the Mother of God?
Although the details are sparse, what unfolds is an absolute roller coaster of events that would utterly dominate her life forever. Does it feel as thought you’ve been caught unaware this past year? Like your ordinary plans got waylaid and life has taken on new challenges that seem like they’ll stick around for quite a while? I’m beginning to think I have more in common with Mary than I thought.
That first visit from Gabriel begins to reveal her character. Given quizzical news that she would conceive and bear a son, she asks the obvious question “How can this be? I haven’t done the things that cause babies.” and being told essentially, “God will do it.” She simply assents, “Be it unto me according to your word.”
And so the miracle began. But it was hardly a Hallmark moment of soft-focus peace and ease which brought our Savior into the world. Forced to travel to Bethlehem, heavily pregnant, there was little order as they worked to find space for her to deliver the Christ-child.
When the excitable shepherds arrived to crowd the young mother and child further, they made known all that had happened to them, the multitude of the heavenly host singing and praising God. Everyone was filled with amazement…
but Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
What wondrous things happened next, Mary? Well, she had a baby to care for. They did the normal things, they gave him the name Jesus and a short while later they went to the temple to offer the customary sacrifices. There they met Simeon who told 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.”
Wonderment, amazement, heart stirring moments, ominous warnings…
And then what, Mary?
Well, just ordinary life. Twelve years of ordinary life before we hear anything else. Matthew’s gospel talks about a flight into Egypt and then a return to Nazareth. Other than that it’s just twelve standard trips around the sun. Twelve summers, twelve winters, Twelve years of labor for Joseph, twelve years of tending the home for Mary, Twelve years of small town life in Nazareth. Twelve trips to Jerusalem for Passover.
But this time something odd happened. After losing track of him among their relatives, likely a whole gaggle of folks from Nazareth, they find him again filling crowds with astonishment. In her distress, her natural motherly anxiety. “Child, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety.’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them. Then he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to them.”
“His mother treasured all these things in her heart.”
Mary’s heart, a treasure trove of divine promise. Each beat, a reminder of the wondrous things God has done. She carried along, day after day, year after year, with these promises echoing in the recesses of her heart, never quite knowing what the next day would bring.
What wondrous promises of God do you carry in your heart?
“He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved… I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe.”
The Christ who was born in Mary is the Christ who was born in you at your baptism. The treasures and the promises of Mary are yours to ponder in your heart. Like Mary, they will carry us through the years when things just seem ordinary, when drudgery and monotony set in, when we are led, like Mary to the foot of the cross in our agony, our grief, and our longing. Even in the dark days of the tomb, the promises of Christ are waiting to be revealed in his resurrection.
When I was a senior in high school, my grandmother was dying of cancer. She had her good days and her bad days. As Easter rolled around that year, it looked like she wouldn’t have the strength to be with the family that day and it was bothering me. She loved Jesus with all her heart and she taught us how to love Jesus with our lives. I wanted her of all people to be with us on that special day. But she told me, “Todd, when you live with the resurrection in your heart, everyday is Easter.”
And I treasure that in my heart.
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Ponder, treasure these things in your heart.
May you, who rejoice in the first Advent of our Redeemer, at his second Advent be rewarded with unending life. Amen.
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