There are many cultural dimensions to all that is Christmas. Pick your favorite. I have a few that I look forward to every year. But as I get older, I’m seeing Christmas more as a great time to reflect on my relationship with Jesus.
In Luke’s gospel, for example, I’m especially drawn to the mother of Jesus, Mary, and how she reflects upon the birth of her son and all that it means to her, both in the present and the future. There are things we can learn from Mary as she takes time to reflect on this most important event in all of history.
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To set the scene for when Mary took time to reflect on all that happened at the first Christmas, I’ll read a few verses from Luke’s gospel that tell the story.
They’re the ones that occur right after Mary gave birth to Jesus. An angel of the Lord had just appeared to a group of shepherds who were on the job out in the fields tending to their sheep. God’s glory surrounded all of them, having appeared out of nowhere. Quite naturally the shepherds were terrified for they had never seen anything like this.
But the angel, a messenger from God, reassured them and told them there’s nothing to be afraid of because he was there to simply announce that Jesus. the savior, the Messiah the Lord. had been born in Bethlehem. Other angels then appear filling the sky and praising God. What a majestic sight that must have been.
After the angels leave
We’ll pick up the story in chapter 2 of Luke’s Gospel, verse 15. Luke writes:
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
It’s this last line that has captained me lately, But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Two important actions going on
There are two important verbs in the sentence I just read, “treasured” and “pondered.” at least that’s how the New International translation renders them. Other translations use the phrase “Mary kept all these things in her heart” rather than “treasure.”
For the verb “Pondered,” other translations use “thought about them often.”
But the translation I like best is the New International Bible Reader’s Version which translates Luke 2:19 like this,
But Mary kept all these things like a secret treasure in her heart. She thought about them over and over.
What are the “these things” of Christmas
Regardless of how you translate the two verbs in this verse, the noun phrase that is the object of the first sentence in the verse is always translated the same, “these things.”
But what are the things Mary was keeping, or treasuring, and pondering or thinking about over and over? It’s one of the beautiful mysteries of the Christmas story that’s worth taking the time to reflect upon.
I imagine Mary obviously reflecting upon what the shepherds told her about the angel of the Lord appearing to them and how terrifying it was. But how their fear turned to joy when the angel told them not to be afraid because
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
What a comforting independent confirmation that what the angel Gabriel told Mary when he visited her 9 months earlier was actually true! This truth alone is like a treasure worth appreciating over and over again. What Gabriel told her wasn’t something she just imagined. The sky was full of angels confirming this was all true.
But there are a few other less obvious “these things”
The “all these things” phrase Luke uses in describing Mary’s response to what is happening, implies different layers to what Mary is experiencing. One layer I imagine is Mary taking time to reflect upon her relationship with her elderly relative Elizabeth.
Imagine these two improbable pregnancies. One to someone too old to bear a child, and the other to a virgin. This was certainly something to treasure and think about often. It would naturally draw Mary to God and his amazing ways in accomplishing his purposes.
Author Anne Lamont would describe this layer to the Christmas story, in the most reverent of tones, as “God showing off.” It’s one of her favorite expressions.
It makes me wonder about the improbable things God has done in your life. What things has he done for you that’s worthy of treasuring?
And then there’s Mary’s husband Joseph. Another layer to the Christmas story. I imagine Mary sitting there in the cave with the baby Jesus looking at Joseph and treasuring her relationship with him. I picture her taking time to reflect on where they’ve come from in their time together. We don’t know how old Joseph was, but we’re pretty sure Mary was probably 14 or 15 years old. Maybe they went to high school together.
They were both from the small backwater town of Nazareth, which had a lot going against it in terms of its reputation. Remember one of Jesus’ disciples remarking, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
While I imagine Mary was the subject of a lot of gossip surrounding her pre-marital pregnancy, she had to know Joseph dealt with the same thing. There was a cost to his reputation and standing in the community, too. Yet he stood by her and believed what Mary and the angel Gabriel told him – as implausible as it was. What woman wouldn’t want a husband like this?
Scripture doesn’t have a lot to say about Joseph, except that he was described as a “good man.” I did an earlier episode about him, episode no 135, “Christmas with a Good Man Brings Joy.” I’ll have a link to it at the bottom of the show notes in case you're interested. It’s one of my favorite Christmas episodes.
“All these men around my baby”
Another layer to what Mary treasured and took time to reflect upon could very well have been the place of the shepherds in the birth of Jesus. If I were Mary, I’d wonder why all these men were here to see my baby. Birthing is typically a female kind of thing, but here are all these guys – Joseph and the shepherds. There’s not another lady to be found in the whole story. What gives with that?
Why are the shepherds even part of the Christmas story? Why couldn’t the angels appear to Mary and Joseph directly?
The answer to this question is another example of God showing off, in the best sense of the word. You see these shepherds were not the ordinary run-of-the-mill shepherd. They were actually temple priests who cared for a special flock of sheep used for the Passover celebration and other temple festivals where ceremonial sheep were sacrificed.
Each of these sheep were without any blemish or defect. They were as perfect as any sheep could be. Their one and only purpose was to one day be a perfect sacrifice. These perfect sheep were what the priestly shepherds were watching over the night the angels appeared to them.
The shepherds knew that one day they would be out of a job when the Messiah, the savior , the son of God would come to earth. They knew he would be the once and for all perfect sacrifice for all mankind. No more sheep. A one and done sacrifice. So no wonder they were excited when the angel appears to them out in their fields around Bethlehem to announce the birth of Jesus.
“For there is born to you today, in David’s city, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11
Time to reflect on the future
Mary knew all this, too. The role of these temple shepherds was well-known, So I’m sure Mary would be reflecting upon the similarity between what they cared for, and what she would be caring for. Jesus is described in several places as the “lamb of God.” His once and for all sacrifice would replace the system these shepherds were part of.
Imagine what it must have been like for Mary, as a teenager knowing that in 33 years the baby you just gave birth to would be offered up by God as a sacrifice to redeem all of mankind.
So what does all this mean for YOU?
There was certainly no shortage of things for Mary to think about there besides her newborn baby. Lot’s of things to treasure and many things to reflect on, mull over, and ponder over and over again.
But what about you?
What about the role of Jesus in your life do you treasure? What are the layers of your relationships with him, that you think about from time to time? I encourage you to take time to reflect upon this.
You know this, I’m sure, but considering questions like these is so much more fulfilling than the other questions we usually ask at Christmas.
In closing, I’d also love to hear any thoughts you have about today’s episode. I hope your thinking was stimulated by today’s show, to do what Mary did, to take time to reflect on your relationship with Jesus.
For when you do, it will help you experience the joy of relationships God desires for you. Because after all, You Were Made for This.
The next time you hear my voice will be on Christmas Day when I read the entire Christmas story from Luke’s Gospel. It’s only 20 verses.
In the meantime don’t forget to spread a little relational sunshine around the people you meet this week. Spark some joy for them. And I’ll see you again next time. Goodbye for now.
Other episodes or resources related to today’s shows
Last week’s blog post: The Joy of Christmas Past
All past and future episodes JohnCertalic.com
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