"But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19).
We have become a generation of non-thinkers. We enter the house and flip on computers and television. We slide into our cars and hit the switch for the radio. We go for walks with earbuds streaming nonstop chatter and music. In our bedrooms, we set dials to certain music or talk programs to lull us to sleep and others to wake us up.
In doing so, we deprive ourselves of a vital aspect of life, a major component of the Christian faith in particular-we fail to meditate on the things of God.
From the beginning, God has intended that His people would be reflective, would read His word and give thought to what they found there, would wake up in the middle of the night and lie there in thought on divine matters. "I remember your Name in the night, O Lord " (Psalm 119:55). "At midnight, I will rise to give thanks to You, because of your righteous judgments" (Psalm 119:62). "Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97).
Now, the Lord has left certain treasures lying on the surface, perhaps to entice the children to come over and search deeper. But the best treasures-the mother lode of His riches-are rarely left exposed in full view, but await the diligent workman underneath the surface, yielding their wealth only to those willing to dig and study, to wait and think, to obey and pray and dig a little deeper.
Mary got it so right. Little wonder all generations since have held her in such high esteem, even if some may have overdone the matter. Mary demonstrates a life of faith and obedience. She vividly illustrates the reflective life and what it means to go forth in faithfulness when one's heart is breaking and has no idea what lies ahead.
Like Mary, we would do well to treasure up all these things. We sometimes treasure old hurts and slights and take them out and study them, looking for new reasons to resent someone. We are known to treasure seductive memories and from time to time pull them out in secret and savor their forbidden pleasures all over again. Some will unearth the memory of ancient sins which did great damage at the time and which the Lord has forgiven. We pull them out in secret and mull over them, to our detriment. We are such sinners.
Like Mary, we would do well to ponder these matters. In his aptly titled Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson says the word "meditate" from Psalm 1 ("on that law doth he meditate day and night") suggests what a dog can do with a large bone. He gnaws on it, buries it, comes back later, uncovers it and chews on it more. He reburies it, and continues to return to work on that bone until one day it is no more. Where exactly is that bone now? Inside the dog. It has become a part of him. In the same way, God wills that His word would become part of us.
In the wonderful Christmas story, here are treasures which cry out for God's people to read and love, to retain in our minds and hearts, and from time to time take out and reflect upon-to gnaw on, if you will.
I. Gabriel: How the Lord's Angel Operated.
With old Zacharias in Luke 1:20-21, Gabriel shows himself to be rather short of patience when he strikes the questioning father-to-be with silence for an entire 9-month period until his son is born. We want to say, "Hey, ease up! He had a right to ask his question!"
In Luke 1:35-37, Gabriel is unusually patient and understanding with Mary, the maiden of Nazareth, when she asks basically the same question-"How can this be?" What's going on here?
If Gabriel were human-and he is not, do not miss that-we might say he's a lot like us. Truthfully, I'm prone to be a lot more patient and sympathetic with a sweet young lady than to a crotchety old geezer (someone like myself). Is it something that basic (so shallow, so simple), or does Gabriel see that behind Zacharias' question is unbelief while faith stands guard behind Mary's question? We are not given answers, but this is well worth thinking about. In the process, we might learn something about ourselves.
II. Mary: How the Handmaiden of the Lord Believed.
The Lord hand-picked this young lady. How good is that? Now, there is a beauty contest worth the winning! (Beauty of a different type, to be sure, but beauty nonetheless-what the Apostle Peter called "the hidden person of the heart" in 1 Peter 3:4).
The angel called Mary "favored." Anyone chosen by the Father to serve Him is honored and should respond respectfully, gratefully, and promptly. After a few exchanges, Mary gets her response right: "Behold, the handmaiden (bondslave) of the Lord" (Luke 1:38).
She had faith but she also had questions. There is nothing wrong with questions, and may we say, nothing wrong with honest doubt. After all, it's not as though immaculate conceptions and virgin births took place every day.
She was already in the habit of contemplating life. "She was greatly troubled at this statement and kept pondering what kind of salutation this might be" (1:29). Why was she troubled? Put yourself in her shoes and I think you can figure this one out!
She asked questions, she was respectful, she thought about what she had been told, and finally she submitted to the Lord. Good pattern for all of us.
III. Elizabeth: What Did She Know and What Did It Mean to Her?
That line which faithful Catholics have recited for centuries and which fills the air space between here and Heaven every day and night was first voiced by Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary: "Blessed among women are you, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!" I'm no Catholic, but gladly add my tiny voice to all the others as we bless God, honor this precious lady, and worship the Son.
You have to wonder, however, how much of the big picture did Elizabeth know? When the baby moved within her womb, Scripture says she was "filled with the Holy Spirit" and uttered this blessing. Then she asked, "How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" (1:43). She seems to have known a good bit.
Perhaps later she remembered little or none of this, and went through the same stages of wondering, questioning, doubting, and believing as so many other relatives of our Lord. Bear in mind, however: Luke got this story from somebody. In 1:2 he makes no secret of having done his research and received these accounts from "eyewitnesses and servants of the word." So, conceivably, his source was Mary herself. (I'm betting on this. After all, she alone could have been his "primary source" for the Gabriel account.)
IV. Zacharias: The New Papa Speaks!
That dad was one proud fellow. No one received a cigar from Zacharias that day, but what he handed out was far better.
He let out a long pent-up burst of praise. To be silent for nearly a year, and then allowed to speak, what would his first words be?
Zacharias blesses God-and for what? For "visiting us," for keeping His promises, for accomplishing what He set out to do after so long a period of silence from Heaven, and for this child in his arms who would be "a prophet of the Most High" ( 1:76).
While we are pondering, we are left to wonder how Zacharias felt when later his son John chose not to follow the usual career path-whatever that was-but became something of a hermit with odd ways, strange appearance, and unusual diet. Was he still as proud of his son as at the beginning? Or was he embarrassed at the jokes made at John's expense? Was he even still living?
V. Joseph: The Role Model for Every Husband, Father, and Disciple Ever Since.
If Mary was-by her own admission-the "handmaiden of the Lord," Joseph was nothing less. He was such a faithful man, so courageous, so obedient. God chooses His men well, doesn't He?
Joseph has no speaking parts in Scripture. This and the silence concerning him during the three-year ministry of Jesus leads us to believe he was off the scene (no longer living), but that's strictly a guess. Suppose he was still alive, still at work in Nazareth's shop, paying the bills while Mary followed the Son and His entourage from place to place. Could he have done this and we not heard a thing? Surely Luke would have recorded something. Or would he? Think about that.
Conclusion: Think on These Things
Well, I hope this will get you started. There is so much more here. Choose any one sentence from the songs of Mary or Zacharias or any verse at all from chapter 2 of Luke and you can spend the day there, reflecting on its riches.
What we must not do is let the enemy pull the little scam which goes like this: "Why are you wasting time on this story? You have read it a hundred times! You know it. Go do something more productive." He's lying, of course, as usual. It's what he does best.
Satan will say anything to keep us from discovering the wealth in God's word and the joy of making these discoveries which add so much depth and height to our Christian experience. Don't let him. Give the Lord your attention today. Shut off the distractions and turn your thoughts toward Him.
Joe McKeever is a retired Southern Baptist pastor from New Orleans, Louisiana. He blogs regularly at www.joemckeever.com.
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