(Adapted for adults from The Advent Investigator.)
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’…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.” – Matthew 2:8-12, 16-19
Every Christmas pageant includes the scene described above. After all, it makes for good drama: the glory of the heavenly hosts, the terrified shepherds, the reverent worship of a newborn.
Meanwhile, verse 19 is often overlooked in the re-telling of the nativity story, because it’s not easily dramatized: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Mary is treasuring up the good news of the Messiah being born. And if that’s not amazing enough, he was born of her! The angel’s message is that the newborn in her arms is the Lord the Jews have been waiting for, who would be their salvation.
As I compare the preoccupations of my own mind and heart to Mary’s, I’m chastened. What do I treasure the most? On what do I most often ponder?
When we “treasure” something, we hold it close; it’s precious to us. Ideally, we treasure things that will last and have meaningful value. In reality, sometimes the things we treasure are fleeting and meaningless. I’ll admit that too often I treasure worthless things: the approval of others, material goods and my own selfish comfort.
When we “ponder,” we reflect on something with thoughtfulness and care. As a writer, I’m prone to self-reflection and can spend too much of my thought-life pondering things that only directly impact me: overthinking the way I phrased something in a conversation or strategizing my next career move.
There are, of course, good things that we treasure, such as family relationships and friendships. Certainly, we should ponder on important things such as our calling or how to handle difficult situations.
But above all, the Word of God is to be a treasure to us because it’s a gift from the Lord so we can know him well. Above all, the Good News of Jesus' salvation is worth pondering.
During the Christmas season, it can be more challenging than ever to give my full attention to the Word of God and the Gospel within it. The busyness that comes with the typical American experience of December can often impede time of quiet meditation.
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, I treasure the special annual traditions: listening to Christmas music and baking cookies we only make once a year. I spend a lot of time pondering what to buy for my family and friends and making plans to see far-away relatives.
In fact, I'll always love these things, and I believe it's good to enjoy these special moments. As W. David O. Taylor writes in his fascinating article about the history of Christmas in America, published in Christianity Today,"Enjoy them because the grace and goodness of God are not absent from these things. Enjoy them because we are always, as Augustine might say, citizens of two cities."
However, I need frequent reminders to pull me back to worship. As Taylor concludes, "But I do think a great deal of good will come when the church learns to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity and to discover in this astonishingly beautiful story of Christ’s birth the better-than-we-could-have imagined nature of the gospel."
As a parent, I have the additional challenge of trying to also turn my children’s hearts from the cultural treasures of the Christmas season to Christ. This is how I ended up writing my advent devotional for preteens and teens. I wanted to create for my own family (and share with others who have the same aspirations) a way to regularly bring our minds back to Christ during Advent.
What we treasure and ponder may appear to be hidden from others but becomes visible because it impacts what we say and do. We know that Mary believed the message about her son because Acts 1:14 records her among the first members of the church: “They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.”
This Advent, follow Mary’s lead—not just her immediate response to that miraculous night of Jesus’s birth, but her life-long commitment to the Lord and Messiah.
Photo by janeb13 on Pixabay.