Date: Decmber 24th
Preacher: Pastor Ashley Rosa-Ruggieri
First Reading: Isaiah 9:2-7
Gospel: Luke 2:1-20
We finally made it! After four weeks of preparation, anticipation, waiting, and watching, we have made our way through Advent to the eve of the birth of our savior. We heard words from Jesus, from John the baptist, and from Mary, Mother and Prophet of God, all of whom pointed us in the right direction so that our preparation for the Lord could be full and complete. And although Advent has come to a close for this church year, we will still continue to heed the words of these ancestors in faith so that we can continually find the way of the Lord forming here and now. As I was reading through our passages for tonight, one particular verse in the Gospel stood out to me. It happens near the end, as the shepherds have found their way to the newborn Jesus and have told those around the manger what they experienced to get there and how this news was made know to them. And then it says, “and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them, BUT MARY, treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Perhaps it is the fact that this past week of Advent we read Mary's song of prophesy and heard about the powerful words that she spoke, or maybe it is the radio station Christmas music that often plays “Mary, Did You Know?” while I am driving, but I read this verse and thought to myself, yes, Mary knew.
The shepherds telling their story to those around them and being met with awe at their story of angels and multitudes and promises of the savior born here in this manger is only part of how they are received. Mary is placed as a contrast to the others gathered who are in awe. She treasured these words and pondered them in her heart. I looked into the original Greek here because in English the words, “treasured” and “pondered” can have multiple connotations. The first one, the word “treasured,” comes from two different words pushed into one. First, a word meaning “with” or “close together”, and the second a verb meaning, “to guard/keep safe.” When combined into one words we get this idea of holding things close as a form of protection or preservation. Especially in this context I think of a mother hen who keeps her eggs close under her as a form of protection from outside threats. Mary treasures these words, keeps them safe and close to her heart, as a way to protect against the coming difficulties that will arise for this savior, her son, who is merely a small baby. The shepherds words of joy, praise, and awe will be guarded by Mary in her heart for the future times where her son, our God, is not treated well by the world around him.
And then we look at the word for “ponder” in this verse. Just like the last one, it takes two words and pushes them together. The first word is the same as before, it means “with” or “close together,” but then the second half literally mean “to throw” or “to cast” like a fishing line. When put these together, they make a combined word meaning roughly “to throw together.” Mary ponders these words in her heart by throwing them together, combining them, with the words that were spoken to her by the angel Gabriel.
She throws the shepherds story together with the words she heard from Elizabeth when John wiggled in her stomach upon Mary's arrival. She throws this new story from the shepherds into the same place as her own experiences of God's steadfast love. All of these messages and stories continually confirming to her exactly who her son is, what he will do in the world, and what he has already done for the world purely by existing as a human among us.
As she treasures and ponders these words, or closely guards them closely and throws them together with own, I have no uncertainty that Mary is not in the same state of awe as the others because she already knows the messages conveyed to the shepherds. She may not be all-knowing, but she knows enough from the messages God has sent her and from her own experience as a Jewish woman to know that the child sleeping before her in the manger is the savior come in the form of a baby. I think Mary knew that she beheld the face of God incarnate when she watched over Jesus in the dim stable light. I think Mary knew that the baby bound in strips of cloth before her would one day call for the bonds of prisoners to be broken. I think Mary knew that the same baby in the manger who cried for food, would be the one to share loaves and fish with many people, filling all who are hungry. I think that Mary is not always given the credit for all that she knew when the messiah, her son, Jesus, Emmanuel, God with Us, was born.
So we sit here tonight, Christmas Eve, the night before the day when we celebrate the light of the world coming to be among us. We also know now what Mary knew then. We can take her lead on this Christmas Eve and treasure the words of the shepherds and ponder them in our hearts. Not only can we do that with the stories of the shepherds then, but we can do it through the stories told to us here and now. Stories of how Jesus is still incarnate today through the faces of our neighbors, and how the joy of Jesus's birth is still proclaimed and made significant by the ways that we choose to prepare the way and listen to the call of God. Because when the angel appeared to the shepherds in our story today, the announcement said, “I bring you Good News of great joy for ALL PEOPLE!” This same Good News that was proclaimed to the shepherds, and then shared by the shepherds to those gathered around the manger, is what we hear today. The awe felt by those at hearing this message, and the treasuring and pondering by Mary are all ways that we can receive this Good News here and now this Christmas. This Good News of Great Joy for ALL PEOPLE is offered to us each and every day. Some days we may feel the fear of the shepherds in the field when the angel appeared, some days we may feel the awe of those who heard the shepherds story, and some days we may treasure and ponder this Good News just as Mary did the night of the shepherds visit. All of these feelings and more are ways that we continually remember that Jesus's birth is Good News, given to us every day. The Good News of a savior that wanted to be with us so much, that the form of a tiny baby who would grow into a human adult that walked among us, was the only choice. As we enter into the season of Christmas, I offer us all this blessing, following in the footsteps of Mary: May you treasure the Good News of Great Joy this Christmas found in the birth of Jesus, and ponder the promises made to all people and fulfilled through his birth, the promise of Emmanuel, God with Us.