A Treasure To Ponder




LUKE 2:1-21


This Christmas morning I have some riddles for you to ponder. Let us see if you can get any of them.

“The More you take the more you leave behind. What am I?”

Answer: Footsteps

“What is harder to catch the faster you run?”

Answer: Your breath

“What is at the end of the rainbow?”

Answer: The Letter W.

“What is big and yellow and comes in the morning to brighten mom’s day?”

Answer: A school bus.

Finally, my favorite. Knock, Knock. (who’s there?) Interrupting cow. Interrupting cow….moooooooooooooooooooooo.” I tell the last one because I learned that joke when I was five and I was hanging out with the preschoolers two weeks ago and they sprung that joke on me.  If it isn’t broke don’t fix it right?

Riddles are fun because they get us thinking….except for the interrupting cow one that one doesn’t require a lot of thought. Riddles break us out of our normal chain of thought and they cause us to ponder, they cause us to think outside of the box.

In today’s text we have a cosmic riddle of sorts. A baby in the manger, shepherds in the field, Angels singing from heaven, these things were prophesized yet unexpected.  Folks were amazed because they didn’t see it coming. God is at work in a new way. The power that made the stars now rests in a manger.  In this text Luke shows us three legitimate reactions to when God reveals His glory. First, The shepherds go to Bethlehem and announce to Mary’s family and apparently the town that a choir of Angels had called them in from the fields. Everyone’s response is wonder. The word here literally means to admire the face. The idea is that God has revealed His true nature. He has made the invisible visible and people are like, “wow that is pretty awesome.”

We have this reaction in our lives. Think about your reaction when you see a man or woman who you consider to be very attractive.  Whether you or old or young maybe you have had this happen in your life. You see the girl or guy and you are like, “wow she is beautiful,” or, “that’s a handsome man right there.” But if you are like me that wonder might make you less likely to go up and talk to that person. That’s sort of how the word wonder or amazed is in this passage. People are amazed by God. They get a glimpse of His face. But then they chicken out. They are too afraid to go up to God and get God’s number, which in this analogy is the Gospel message of the saving Grace of Jesus Christ.

The second reaction is that of the shepherds. First they are afraid, but when the Angels explain to them the situation they go out and tell the good news and they glorify God. Glorifying God is a step up from amazement. To go with the dating analogy you’ve gotten the girl’s number or you have given your number. You’ve dated for a while. You’ve seen that this person more than just a pretty face. Maybe their face isn’t even what others might call beautiful or handsome but you have come to see something beneath and beyond that persons face. You have come to see their true face. You like what you see, you know it deep in your heart, and you take advice of the great philosopher and pop star Beyonce. You put a ring on it. You make up your mind and you say yes to marriage. You say yes this is the one for me in sickness and in health. Our relationship to Christ in the Bible is described as a marriage. What does the book of Ephesians say. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of the water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-32). To Glorify God is to commit ourselves to the One True God revealed in Jesus Christ and to forsake all other gods. It is to give ourselves over in mind, body, and Spirit. The shepherds were not only amazed, they believed. They acted on their belief and told others. They praised God in their everyday lives.

The third reaction to God’s work at Christmas is that of Mary’s. To quote the text, “ But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (vs 19). Treasured, here means to preserve, to keep safe.  When I was thinking about preserving things and keeping things safe I was reminded of an NPR story on the effort to preserve Dorothy’s ruby slippers. These famous slippers from the classic film the Wizard of Oz are one of the most popular items on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. The Smithsonian launched an online campaign to raise $300,000 to fund preservation work, research, and a new display case. Within three days of starting the campaign the Smithsonian had raised $200,000 in pledges. All this money was meant for finding out the right temperature, light, humidity, every condition you would need to preserve these historic relics which mean so much to so many.  Though to some they might just be an ordinary pair of red slippers, those who cherish that film, those who saw the Wizard of Oz come across their television screens in color, know there is no price too steep to pay to preserve that memory.

That’s how Mary felt about the message of the shepherds. Maybe her family thought, “ wow that was cool but let’s get back to our normal life.” Maybe her neighbors thought, “ wow that was unusual but can someone get these crazy shepherds out of our town?” But Mary knew that this message had to be protected and cherished. The word of God was that valuable to her.

Not only did Mary treasure the Word of God we are told that she pondered the words of the Shepherds in her heart.  The word for ponder here might be used in a different context to describe two people or a group of people having a conversation. Literally it means throwing things together, like one might throw together a salad. Darrell Bock author of the Baker Exegetical Commentary on Luke suggests that perhaps the English idiom, “mulling things over,” would be the best modern translation of this phrase (Bock, 223).  Not only did Mary glorify God she asked God to teach her about the deeper meaning of the events that were occurring to her and her child. We may be reminded of the famous song, “Mary did you know?” Well the answer is yes. The Angel Gabriel gave her an idea about the destiny that awaited her son, that he was Son of the Most High and would Rule over the house of David. And when she took her son to be circumcised at the temple Simeon, a righteous and devout man who had been waiting all his life for the messiah, came up to her and prophesized saying, “ Behold, this is a child is appointed for the falling and rising of many in Israel and for a sign that is opposed and a sword will pierce through your own soul also so that the thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” ( Luke 2:34-35). Mary had hints of what was to come. She even knew from Simeon that her heart would be pierced, that she would experience great pain on account of what would happen to her son. Mary had the outline of the story but she asked for a greater understanding. Mary would be in line with our Christian tradition, the Reformed Tradition, whose moto is faith seeking understanding. Mary had faith. But her faith was superior to the shepherds because she sought greater spiritual understanding.

Mary’s pondering didn’t simply use her reasoning. It was a deep and profound questioning in her Spirit. The events of Christmas shook Mary to the core and caused her to ask uncomfortable questions about herself and her faith. But she didn’t shy away from these questions she asked God to help her answer them. The scriptures are clear, the Lord’s ways are not our ways, there are many things about God we will not understand in this life, but if we have a question we can bring it to Him, and He will give us wisdom (James 1:15).  Paul tells us that the things of God are spiritual discerned. To quote Paul, “ For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also, no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.” (1 Cor 2:12). Imagine that instead of Spirit we use the term glasses. There are many different types of glasses in this world that can help us see better or worse. What the scriptures say is there is only one type of glasses, the Holy Spirit, that can help us ponder and understand the things of God.  How do you know if you have the Holy Spirit? The scriptures say we have the Holy Spirit when we confess that Jesus as Lord and reflect the character of Christ in our lives.  If we let the Holy Spirit work in our lives He will reveal deeper questions to us to guide us to the Truth of the scriptures.

For example, recently I was hanging out with Tom, working on doing digital sermon recordings. I was talking to him about the cross at the back of the sanctuary. It is certainly a beautiful golden cross. It was originally from Norview Presbyterian Church and was brought here when Norview merged with Calvin. I loved all the Biblical imagery on the cross. But for the life of me I could not figure out why there was a chicken at the bottom of the cross. It had bothered me ever since I got here. Why would someone put a chicken at the bottom of a cross? I mentioned it to Tom. He thought about it and then he said perhaps it represented the rooster who crowed three times when Peter denied Jesus in the Gospels. A light went off in my head and I saw that chicken in a whole new way. Tom was right. A guy who never went to seminary got that Biblical imagery when I did not. That is the Spirit of God applying the Word of God to his life. This observation was spiritually discerned. And the that cross as you know has a deeper meaning. It is a symbol of the merger of two churches. Now generally, in church research, merging churches is one of the hardest things to do. A lot of churches don’t make it through the transition. But you all did make it through. Because the decision was discerned through the Spirit. In the coming weeks and months we will be called to discern in the Spirit. We will be called to make decisions that may not always make sense but we will do so because God has called us to do so.

Coming back to Mary. The Holy Spirit has revealed to me through study and prayer things I didn’t understand about Mary before. I had always thought that we mainly hear from Mary in the Christmas Story, and she is mentioned as being there when Jesus was crucified, but that is about it. But a couple of years ago while reading through the book of Acts I found out that wasn’t true.  In Acts 1:14 we are told that after the Ascension of Jesus to heaven, they returned to Jerusalem, to the upper room, to pray and await the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Luke gives us a list of all the disciples who were in that room and then he says, “ All these with one accord were devoting themselves to prayer, together with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”  I can’t tell you how many times I read this line and just skipped over it. What it seems to imply is that Mary was there at Pentecost. When Jesus poured out his Spirit and tongues of fire fell upon the disciples Mary was there. Mary was speaking in languages she did not know just like the disciples. Mary had to be there at the birth of her son, and I knew she was there at the cross, but I had never realized she was there at the birth of the church. Her story didn’t end when her son rose from the grave. Luke doesn’t tell us anything else about what she did with the early church. He doesn’t tell us if she had a hand in teaching with the disciples. He just tells us she was there. I have asked myself for years what that means for my faith? All I know is I continue to pray and to ask for understanding. Because the word of God is a treasure to ponder.

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