Well, at long last Christmas is here! All the build-up and anticipation has come to a head and now you
wonder how it can possibly be fulfilled! Or maybe the Christmas season been such a blur of activity for
you that Christmas will have passed before you even realize what happened! I think we’ve all been in
both situations along the way. We lament the commercialization of Christmas but still “buy into it” (pun
intended!). We speak of the insanity of Christmas, with all of the busyness alongside the business, with
parties, concerts, gifts to get and cards to send. How many of you have ever written out a bunch of
Christmas cards and then just forgot to send them?! What do you do when you later realize what
you’ve done—do you send them anyway? Well, not if you discover them among your Christmas stuff
years later (which we’ve done!). Then they become more of a personal journal of that point in your life
that you pause to remember. I want to encourage us tonight to pause to remember what Christmas is
Ask anyone how they are and it’s almost certain they’ll tell you they’re busy. Then, if you actually stop
to talk for a moment (because you are busy!), you may tell the person all the stuff you’ve been doing.
We went here and we did that and so on . . . But that doesn’t say much about how you are, where
you’re at in your life, how things are going with you. How are things going with you? How are you
coping with all of the challenges in life? How are you as we end one year still in shock over the recent
elementary school massacre? How are you as we deal with economic turmoil, promises made by
politicians they’re not likely or able to keep, a “fiscal cliff” that looms over the horizon, and Islamist and
Communist countries nearing nuclear capability? How are you as you deal with your own family
relationships, possibly with health concerns, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and more? How are
you? What is the meaning of all of the busyness in your life? What’s the point of it all?
I was taking a walk one noon recently in the neighborhood around the church when it occurred to me
that I was so focused on looking down at the sidewalk and taking my next step that I was missing all of
lovely homes and decorations all around me. It dawned on me, ‘I know how to walk’ (just put one foot
in front of the next and lift them up to make sure you don’t trip), so I started to look around and enjoy
and appreciate more of what I was going through. I think that is a bit of a metaphor for our lives. We
need to stop, pause, reflect, ponder what we’re doing and where we’re going so that we can make
sense of our lives, enjoy what God has given us, and experience the reality of the maxim, “Happiness is
not a destination; it is a manner of traveling.” Amidst all of the busyness, both of the season and of our
lives, let us find in Mary’s response to all the confusion, exhilaration, and wonder of that first Christmas
an appropriate vantage point: “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (v. 19).
Mary certainly knew something of Christmas “insanity”! She’d travelled as a very pregnant woman with
Joseph, her betrothed, a very scandalous thing to do, some 70 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be
registered. She likely travelled all this way on a donkey, over hill and vale. She finally gets to Bethlehem
and surely expecting to find a room to finally get some rest, finds out instead that there are no rooms!
How could anyone be so callous as to turn away a poor pregnant woman who has come all that way?
She has physical pain and emotional distress of many kinds, wondering what in the world God is doing in
her life as she struggles to do what is expected for her family. Sound familiar? Sound like a struggle
you’ve had, or maybe are having as the economy continues to gasp, as hiring looks bleak, and a host of
other factors make life seem less than hopeful?
We all have our manger scenes with the holy family there in a sense of utter tranquility surrounded by
the animals that seem quiet and adoring and shepherds who’ve come to pay homage. I suspect things
were less idyllic on that first Christmas. Imagine having to give birth in a cold dark cave, as the tradition
has it, where dirty smelly animals are kept. Imagine having to put your child in a feeding trough—yea,
that’s what “manger” means! A feeding trough! How could God want this for her, she must have
wondered? Am I mistaken about that announcement from the angel Gabriel that I would give birth to
the messiah? I know I have been faithful to God and to my betrothed, but I don’t understand any of
“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” That
sounds very pastoral, and it is, and when the angel comes to tell them of the birth of this Christ child,
there is a “multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’” It’s beautiful! But then the shepherds all come to
“see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So Mary, who is in recovery
from just having given birth, now gets visits from a bunch of people she doesn’t even know who want to
see her baby?! “Oh, he’s over there in the feeding trough”? I doubt she was particularly proud of that
or even all that glad to see all these people. At least, that’s how most of us would feel, I think!
Who knows how long these shepherds hung around? Shepherds weren’t really considered the greatest
company anyway. They’d probably have been dirty and smelly too, since they spent so much time out in
the fields! But they did report “what had been told them about this child” and “all who heard it were
amazed at what the shepherds told them”—all? That’s a funny way of speaking of just Mary and
Joseph, isn’t it? Kind of makes you think that some others besides the shepherds had stopped in to visit!
So, Mary has a houseful, excuse me, caveful of people she really doesn’t know, all gawking at her baby
there in the feeding trough, some of them, the shepherds, telling her of an angelic multitude that had
appeared to them out in the fields with words that have since become quite famous about peace and
You think you know what Christmas insanity is? Ask Mary about it when, by God’s grace through faith in
Christ, you arrive in heaven! How does anyone make sense of all she was going through?! Only by
keeping it all in mind, treasuring what was occurring around her, and reflecting on its meaning in the
light of God’s word to her; in short, by pondering on it all. Anyone who’s ever had a newborn knows
there is a lot to do in caring for that child, so Mary was busy. And with all the whirl of activity around
her, she might have been excused if she was so tired from traveling, giving birth, visitors, and so on that
she couldn’t think of another thing, but she did! She took the time to think through what had happened
and why. She thought about what it all meant. It meant that God had indeed come to her, a virgin, and
the power of the Most High had indeed come upon her, to give her a son to be named Jesus, who would
be great, the Son of the Most High, to whom God would give the throne of his ancestor David on which
he would reign forever, just as the angel Gabriel had announced to her. It meant that God had looked
with favor on the lowliness of his servant and that from then on all generations would call Mary blessed,
for he had indeed shown strength in scattering the proud in their thoughts and had lifted up the lowly in
fulfilling the promise made to Abraham, as Mary had said in her response known as the Magnificat. It
somehow all made sense to Mary at that point. All of the accusations made against her and all of the
humiliation of this experience faded into the background in light of the knowledge of the glory of God
found in the face of the baby Jesus.
Tonight as you are here, away from the madding crowds at the mall and before the next influx of
madness in your Christmas or in your life, take time to treasure these words and ponder them in your
heart. What is the meaning of what happened on that first Christmas? Who is Jesus? What was God
doing in coming to us in the person of his Son and what does that mean for you? May I suggest that we
need to treasure God’s word to us much more than we do and ponder it regularly. That is why weekly
Sunday worship is so important—it helps us to do that regularly, so that we can better deal with the
craziness of life. That’s why daily study of the Word and prayer is so important, as well. We need to
stop and set aside time to focus on where we are in God’s plan so we know how to walk through the life
before us and truly enjoy what he’s given us. God has come to us in Jesus. Will you come to him?
“Ponder anew, what the Almighty can do, if with his love he befriend thee”. So goes a line in the hymn
“Praise to the Lord, the Almighty”. He has befriended us in Christ. Ponder anew, then, what he can do!