Dear Friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
It was nearing the middle of December, and a little boy asked his mother if he could have a new bike for Christmas. She told him that the best idea would be to write to Santa Claus. But the boy, having just played an important role in the Sunday School Christmas program, decided he would write to the baby Jesus instead. “Dear Jesus, I have been a very good boy and would like to have a bike for Christmas.” Unfortunately, when he read it over he wasn’t very happy, so he decided to try again. “Dear Jesus, I’m a good boy most of the time and would like a bike for Christmas.” Again, he wasn’t happy with that letter either. So he tried a third version. “Dear Jesus, I could be a good boy if I tried hard and especially if I had a new bike.” Still he wasn’t satisfied. So, he decided to go out for a walk while he thought about a better approach. After a short time he passed a house with a small statue of the Virgin Mary in the front garden. Suddenly, he had a brilliant idea. He crept in, stuffed the statue of Mary under his coat, hurried home and hid it under the bed. Then he wrote this letter. “Dear Jesus, If you ever want to see your mother again, you’d better send me a new bike.”
Growing up in rural Minnesota, Protestants often teased Roman Catholics about the Virgin Mary, and in turn, Catholics teased Protestants about Martin Luther. In Lutheran churches Mary always had her annual fifteen minutes of fame in December when the Sunday School program rolled around. You had your shepherds, your angels, and your young maiden kneeling beside the babe in swaddling clothes. But soon after the presents were unwrapped and the nativity scene packed away for another year, the Virgin Mary drifted back into the shadows, where we were convinced she belonged. Why the Roman Catholics in town made such a big deal about Mary never made sense to us. As we joked, “They Glorified Mary and We Glorified Rice.” Of course, we knew that Mary had an important part to play in the whole Christmas story, but to us, she was a rather minor character. So the closing verse in St. Luke’s Christmas gospel always came to us as a surprise, “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” How could she be assigned such an important verse?
This description was no surprise to Martin Luther. He wrote strong, loving statements about the Virgin Mary. His own church in Wittenberg was named after Mary. “Mary,” he said, “is the highest woman and the noblest gem in Christianity after Christ. We can never honor her enough.” Though he added, “Still honor and praise must be given to her in such a way as to injure neither Christ nor the Scriptures.” Now, it may sound as an odd Christmas prayer from a rather old fashioned Lutheran pastor, and perhaps shocking to my parents, may they rest in peace, but I wish we could all be a bit more like the Virgin Mary this Christmas Eve, myself included, standing at the manger pondering the mystery of Jesus’ birth.
In the Middle Ages, Mary was known as the Queen of Heaven, but her life was anything but royal. From the moment she said “yes” to the Angel Gabriel, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it me be according to your word,” she had a hard road to trod. Mary certainly didn’t feel like God’s favored one. She lived in Nazareth an unimportant, provincial town. The entire district was so looked down upon by its neighbors that they said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Mary’s nine month pregnancy was interrupted by a tiring journey from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem in the south with Joseph. Like many of the world’s poor today, the young couple were caught by the whims and fancies of political powers. “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus, and everyone went to their own home city to be registered.” Mary was undoubtedly tired and she had no comfort from her own mother or family. But somehow, in the midst of her giving birth, Luther and the early church fathers, found in Mary an example of faith which should be embraced and studied for all generations. She was the Mother of the Son of God who treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Now, you may be wondering so why is pondering so important? If you look in a dictionary, you learn that “ponder” means to reflect upon things deeply. It means to think upon words or events in your life to determine what they really mean. So when Scripture says that Mary “pondered all these things in her heart,” we discover that Mary didn’t understand what all the events surrounding Jesus’ birth. No, rather like a picture that gradually emerges from a jigsaw puzzle, when each new piece is set in place, Jesus’ identity became more and more clear to Mary. This is why Luther described her “as the most important gem in Christianity after Christ.” This is also what you and I are invited to do when we stand beside the manger this Christmas Eve.
You may not understand what it means for Jesus to be the Messiah. You may even wonder why you need a savior- Someone to give you hope in the midst of world’s hopelessness. One who gives you light in the face of great darkness. One who gives you peace in the whirlwind of chaos. One who forgives in a society that demands strict justice. One who gives joy to the poor and disenfranchised. Why is pondering so important? Each time you hear God’s word in worship, or are drawn near to him in holy communion, or even sing a hymn praising God, the Holy Spirit which once covered Mary, opens your mind and heart to God’s love and mercy. The shepherds on the hills of Bethlehem certainly experienced the wonder of angels and their hymn of glory. Joseph’s family and all who heard the shepherds’ story were amazed at what they heard. But only Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. That is what you and I are invited to experience this Christmas. You see, genuine faith is not merely a matter of memorizing a few historical, biblical facts and gathering occasionally for worship. A genuine, living faith happens when you allow yourselves, like Mary, to ponder the events of Jesus’ life in your heart. And to know and trust that he has come this day- for you.
Unfortunately, pondering, reflecting, and even vigorously discussing who Jesus is, is not a common practice in our generation. We are far too easily distracted with the different philosophies and activities competing for the attention of Christian family. But like Mary, it is your responsibility and joy to tell the story. Perhaps this Christmas Eve, you don’t yet have a clear or perfect picture of Jesus. Don’t worry, and don’t be afraid. Come to the manger and see. Ponder his story. Through his word, God will enable you to see Jesus more clearly one day, so that you may share this good news with others.
It was the day after Christmas at a church in San Francisco. The pastor of the church was looking over the cradle when he noticed that the baby Jesus was missing. Immediately he turned and went outside and saw a little boy with a red wagon, and in this little red wagon was the figure of baby Jesus. So he walked up to the boy and said, “Well, where did you get him my fine friend?”
The little boy replied, “I got him from the church.” The pastor asked, “So why did you take him?” The boy said, “Well about a week before Christmas I prayed to Jesus and I told him if he would bring me a red wagon for Christmas, I would give him a ride around the block in it.” I wish the boy had taken Mary for a ride as well.
My friends, we may not have all the details right, and our children may miss a few more than we would like, but let us be more like Mary who “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.