“Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Luke 2:19
Mary had a lot to think about in the days after Jesus’ birth. Most mothers do. A new baby is full of wonders and challenges and hopes and fears. It can all be a little overwhelming to any new mother, even Mary. The verse quoted above comes after the shepherds’ visit. A few days later, old Simeon would prophesy about the child and include dark words to Mary, “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” The word ponder literally means to cast together, as if Mary tried to pull together disparate events and discern something meaningful. She had much to ponder in her heart.
You are receiving this GraceWaves during the week between Christmas and the New Year. I like this week, and always have. The rush of Advent, all the extra services and extra people, has receded. In the ministry we usually take a few of these days off, although they are good days to be in the office. It seems everybody else is catching their breath too before the onslaught of a new year.
The main reason I like this week is for the opportunity it provides to ponder. This spiritual exercise is especially valuable in light of our tendency to think about New Year’s resolutions. I’m all for New Year’s resolutions, except that they tend to be so irritatingly practical, like making a budget, or losing weight. These and other goals are quite good, but in a matters of the Spirit, God often is infinitely impractical. Even with the birth of His Son, God was rather vague in the details (you think Mary really understood what being the mother of the Messiah would mean?), and God really did not make the birth easy or convenient (unmarried, four-day donkey ride, no reservations at an inn, etc. Seriously?). Mary had much to ponder about her life, the life of her child, Joseph, and God’s design in all of these matters.
In the same way, God’s goal is not your waist-line or your bottom line. His goal likely is not even for you to read a certain number of chapters in the Bible daily or spend a set amount of time in prayer. God is always interested in creating in you a righteousness that exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees. That righteousness takes you beyond numbers.
We want to ponder during this week because we are just departing a time in which we got at least a glimpse of how wonderfully good life can be. Surely you noticed that. At some point during Advent, maybe it was Christmas Eve, the breath of God seemed particularly warm and close. You sensed way down deep in your soul the truth behind all the decorations, presents, and parties. You sensed Him.
The Celtic Christians wrote of the “thin times” or “thin places” where the distance between the physical and spiritual world was thin. A sanctuary is a thin place for me. Or a forest. Or Advent. Christmas is the thinnest time of the year. I think it is for most people. That’s why more people come to church during December than any other month. That’s why Christmas Eve services are regularly packed. People sense that something is special and true about these events we celebrate. So before you rush back to the thick places, what should you ponder about your life and God’s mysterious and powerful work in it?
Perhaps in God’s quiet words you will discern a need for more quiet places during the year and remember that He created one day each week to be different from all others. Sunday is the thinnest day of every week. Are you using it in its original intention?
Perhaps in rehearing the Christmas story you understand that as God provided for Mary and Joseph He will provide for you. Now you can turn from being anxious for many things and engage daily in the work of God’s kingdom. You realize that there will be easy days and hard days, but each day is a joyous day.
The last two paragraphs reflect my own pondering. What about you? Please take one more deep breath of this Christmas season before you walk too far away from it. God usually whispers, but He does always speak. Listen. Ponder. Where does He lead you?
Dr. Terry Ellis
December 26, 2011