(This is a devotional I shared at our church’s annual Ladies Christmas Brunch 2017)
Christmas is a time for looking back. It brings us back to our childhood, back to family memories of when we were children or raising our own children. It brings us back to all the Christmas memories we made together.
As we call to mind our Christmas memories, we are transported back to a different time and place. Most of these memories bring us back to a happy time—a time that we have treasured. And as parents we work hard to make Christmas a special time for our families that they will treasure—just like our parents made it special for us when we were growing up.
As we think back over our Christmas memories, each of us has something different in mind that we treasure and that makes Christmas so special. We all have a different version of what makes Christmas “Christmas.”
Just for fun I want you to take a moment and try to remember what you did last year for Christmas. Where were you? Who were you with? What do you remember?
Now I want you to think back to the year before that—and try to answer the same questions. Where were you? Who were you with? What do you remember about Christmas two years ago?
Okay, go back five years, ten years, twenty! And now go way back in your Christmas memory bank and find your first memory of Christmas. What is your first Christmas memory when you first became aware of Christmas? Most likely you are going back somewhere to your childhood.
Maybe as a child you remember the anticipation of opening up presents on Christmas day. Maybe you remember a special present you got or the decorations or the food you ate. Maybe it was special family members or friends showing up whom you hadn’t seen in such a long time. Don’t you find that whatever we remember from our childhood memories sneaks in and influences how we do Christmas today?
I was out shopping recently when a certain book caught my eye. It was a journal designed to record many Christmas years, and it was titled, “Our Christmas Memories Book.” I don’t know exactly how many pages it had, but it was a good-sized book. There were two pages dedicated for recording each Christmas year. On one page there was a place to attach a photo. On the opposite page there were three questions to answer: 1) Where were you? 2) Who were you with? 3) Moments to be remembered.
We all have a version of what makes Christmas so memorable for us. And there are certain significant moments in our lives that we all take the time to record. Christmas is one of those times.
But what makes Christmas memorable can change from year to year as we get older. We change, we reinvent, we make it better or different, and sometimes circumstances beyond our control change the way we will remember Christmas in the years to come. And so the next year we build on a new foundation of memories.
What do we do with special memories? We frame them. We share them on social media. We write them in our journals. We get a keepsake box and fill it with various mementos. I have a few such boxes. I have a wedding box and three other boxes, one for each of my sons. I hardly ever open these boxes anymore. The few times I have taken the lids off, I get a whiff of musty old smells. I look at my mementos, and I can’t even remember all of them. Perhaps I should have catalogued each item before placing it in my keepsake box.
The reasons why I kept certain things has faded. Our memories fade over time. They are important as long as we can recall them. But the importance of the memories we keep fades over time. Even when we post them on Facebook, they get pushed down to the bottom of the page and out of sight.
Let’s look at the very First Christmas Memory recorded for us in the Bible. “When they (the shepherds) 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.” (Luke 2:17-19)
Let me set the scene for you. It is night time. It is dark. There are no street lights. The shepherds are out in the fields watching over their sheep. Suddenly a great light shines all around them. An angel appears and tells them to go to the city of David to see the Savior, the Christ. He has just been born. And he is wrapped in cloths and lying in a manager. And if that was not enough to spook the shepherds, many, many more angels appear, and they are all rejoicing and praising God saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
And so the shepherds rush off with excitement. They find the baby Jesus lying in a manger just as the angel told them. And with great excitement they share with Mary what the angel said and about the other angels that appeared singing glory to God. Mary was probably very surprised that these shepherds came to see her wonderful, newborn son.
And then Mary watches as the shepherds take off running. They are probably shouting and yelling and waking everyone up in the town. “Hey everyone! Angels just appeared to us, and they told us about a Savior that has just been born. They told us we would find him in a manger. And we did!” And so there is great excitement, commotion and energy in the air.
Then immediately after all this the Bible says: “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” This sequence of events has always stood out in my mind—from such an energetic, lively moment with the shepherds and the angels to this quiet, contemplative moment with Mary. Mary treasures up all these things and quietly ponders them in her heart.
These events with the shepherds and the angels and Mary are found in the book of Luke. Luke was not one of the twelve disciples. But Luke tells us how he carefully interviewed people before writing down the events that took place regarding Jesus. It’s very possible that the verses we just read about the angels and shepherds are actually Mary telling her story to Luke.
I have done a lot of pondering myself on these verses. And I want us to ponder on these verses together right now. I want us to ask ourselves—why did God record this moment with Mary for us? Why was it placed here for us to read? Why do we go from such a big and exciting moment to this tender, quiet, reflective moment? There are no mistakes in the Bible. The Holy Spirit guided the writers of God’s Word. This moment here with Mary draws our attention. So why is this quiet moment with Mary recorded for us in Scripture? I can think of two reasons.
The first reason is obvious. Theses verses are so tender. They make Mary so real. She is so human. She has just given birth. And she is treasuring up the moment. Just like we moms do after giving birth. And so we can relate to Mary. Before I became a mom myself, I read these verses, but I never really stopped to think about them. It was only after I gave birth that I found myself reflecting and thinking about the birth of each of my sons.
As moms we take in every circumstance surrounding the birth of our children. We recall carrying our child, picking the name for our child, the dreaded labor and then the joy when we first held our newborn. Do you remember that? It is a sweet time … the treasuring up of all these memories of our child’s birth. And for a time—we treasure, we record, we share on Facebook. We are proud and happy … and tired. But we are not really pondering—we are treasuring.
But there is another reason God tells us about Mary treasuring up and pondering these things in her heart. And that is to get us, the reader, to slow down. After we have read the impossible of what God has just done and all the events leading up to the moment of Jesus’ birth, God doesn’t want us to rush through this part of the passage without taking the time to pause and reflect. That is what pondering means: taking the time to quietly meditate, to carefully consider, to deeply reflect.
Something of great consequence has taken place. We need to stop and sit awhile with Mary and look back on all the circumstances surrounding Jesus’ birth. We need to read through them carefully. We need to treasure up and ponder these things just as Mary did. Because even though Jesus was born through Mary, Jesus was also born for us who believe.
So what did Mary treasure up and ponder in her heart?
I believe if Mary had a keepsake box or journal, here are some of the things she would have included:
1. I was visited by the angel, Gabriel. Gabriel spoke to me and told me that I found favor with God. He told me that God chose me to be a part of His amazing plan for all men. I feel so humbled. I am overwhelmed that God chose me. I am his servant.
2. I am a virgin, and I just gave birth. The Son of God who was conceived by the Holy Spirit has taken on my flesh. God has gone against the laws of nature—again.
3. I gave birth to the Son of God—the Son of the Most High and the Savior that my people have been waiting for. Unbelievable! Truly it is just as the angel, Gabriel, told me, “With God all things are possible.”
4. And my cousin Elizabeth, wow! The angel told me about her. She is a very old woman, and she was barren, but I found her pregnant. Once again, truly with God nothing is impossible!
5. And then Elizabeth’s greeting to me. She didn’t even know I was coming. Her words were so prophetic, so encouraging. She spoke about the true identity of my son. I will never forget her words: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear! But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”
6. And then God gave me a song of praise. He led me to sing this amazing song. He put it in my heart. The song declared God’s favor on the humble and God’s mercy and redemption for his people. Oh, the heart of my God. He loves his people so much. He has kept his promises.
7. And then the journey to get to this place with all these animals to give birth to a King whose kingdom will have no end. Truly God’s ways are not man’s ways.
8. And how the shepherds surprised me. I was not expecting them. And what they told me about the angels that came to visit them. Think of it—angels from God proclaiming the birth of God’s only Son. How I wish I had seen them adorn the sky with their heavenly chorus of praise! Perhaps someday.
9. And I can still hear the shepherds out there shouting and telling everyone about the birth of my son, Jesus. There is such rejoicing. The Messiah has come through me.
Mary didn’t understand all of God’s plan regarding Jesus. No one at this time understood it all. It was not until Jesus had lived out his life completely—from his birth to his death to his resurrection—that they understood more clearly.
But you and I have the completed Word of God. God has revealed to us his plan of redemption—from Genesis to Revelation. And it is spelled out so clearly for us here in God’s Word. And so we would do well to reflect and ponder on this book.
Our Christmas memories are finite. They remain special so long as we can recall them. But these memories of ours eventually fade.
And though Mary would eventually die, her first Christmas memory was recorded in the Word of God forever for our benefit. We can review it over and over again so the memory of our Savior’s birth will always stay fresh. Because the very first Christmas memory is now our memory too, for it has been recorded for us in the Word of God.
Mary was physically present at the birth of our Savior. We can’t experience the physical indwelling of Jesus in our wombs as Mary did. But we can experience the spiritual indwelling of Jesus by the Holy Spirit when we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead.
Are you treasuring up the birth of Christ and pondering it in your heart? If the birth of Christ brings you no comfort or joy or hope, then you have not yet understood it in your heart.
Don’t rush through the Christmas season. Don’t let the activities of Christmas hide Christ. Take time to contemplate Jesus’ birth. Don’t let the familiarity become too familiar, such that it doesn’t bring you comfort, joy and peace in the Lord.
Make a conscious effort to slow down, to treasure up and ponder the sweetness of the birth of Christ. Pondering is not easy, because it’s hard to slow down during such a busy season. But it’s worth it. So take the time, make the time to ponder. And as a marker for you this season, every time you see a Nativity Scene this year, let that be a fresh reminder to pause, to reflect, to treasure up and ponder the birth of Jesus.