I am so excited to spend this wonderful time of Advent together! I pray these four upcoming posts will encourage you and renew your sense of wonder.
This is the first of a four-part series concerning details surrounding the birth and death of Jesus Christ.
Have you ever pondered something? I’m not sure that in the age of instant access to information via our smartphones, which are always on our persons, that we often ponder anything anymore. Pondering requires stillness, and an almost daydream-like state of mind that we in 21st century western culture seem to devalue or, at the very least, undervalue. Even as I wanted to make precise my understanding of the word ponder, I opened a new window on my desktop and Googled it. We are a people who want instant answers, spontaneous understanding. Having said this, I reluctantly, guiltily, submit to you the definition of the word ponder:
to consider something deeply and thoroughly; meditate (often followed by over or upon).
to weigh carefully in the mind; consider thoughtfully
We can read of one woman who did ponder though. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was very present in both His birth, obviously, and at His death. Mary was the first to be visited by the angel, Gabriel, who had the express mission of telling her that she would bear the Son of God. Mary, the Bible tells us, was a thoughtful young woman. She pondered on all that Gabriel announced to her.
And coming to her, the angel said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly perplexed at what he said, and kept carefully considering what kind of greeting this was. Luke 1:28-29
Mary had nine months to think upon this greeting and its implications.
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a heavenly army of angels visited some humble shepherds in a nearby field to proclaim His birth. They decided to pay a visit to the Son of God, and went to the place where the Baby was with His family. The shepherds told Mary and Joseph all about the angelic announcement. The Bible tells us that all who heard (apparently they also told others) were astounded and filled with wonder. Mary, the thinker, the ponderer, responded a bit differently.
When the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying one to another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem, and see this [wonderful] thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the Baby as He lay in the manger. And when they had seen this, they made known what had been told them about this Child, and all who heard it were astounded and wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these things, giving careful thought to them and pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:15-19
This had to seem to Mary like a confirmation of what was pronounced by Gabriel nine months earlier. It must have been another piece to the puzzle, another dot to connect in this mysterious narrative. It would have been a lot to take in, and so naturally Mary would have needed to ponder and give careful thought to it all. There was still so much that would have seemed unclear and confusing. Gabriel announced that her Son would be given the throne in the lineage of David, and that He would reign over Israel. There was no clear explanation as to how that would happen. Certainly neither she nor her husband, Joseph, were wealthy or influential or connected. Yet here was another heavenly announcement, this time, given through lowly shepherds. Careful pondering was called for.
Eight days later, when Joseph and Mary brought their Son to the temple to have Him circumcised as required by Jewish custom, they were greeted by Simeon, a righteous and devout follower of the Law. Simeon was very old, but was it was revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he wouldn’t die until he had seen the Messiah. Upon beholding Jesus, Simeon took Him in his arms and praised God, thanking Him for allowing him to see the Christ. Simeon proclaimed a blessing and prophesy over the Baby. Jesus’s parents were amazed at what he said. It was then that Simeon spoke expressly to Mary, saying,
…“Listen carefully: this Child is appointed and destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign that is to be opposed— and a sword [of deep sorrow] will pierce through your own soul—so that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:34-35
Mary must have had to chew on these words for quite awhile. She had heard the angel Gabriel’s message of hope, she had heard Elizabeth’s joyful confirmation of promise, she had heard the shepherds recounting of glory and wonder; this is the first hint that we know of heartbreak, the first word of anguish concerning the Child she has brought into the world. Surely Mary had more to think about.
Fast forward thirty-three years to the scene of Jesus on the cross from John 19:25-27:
But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, His mother’s sister [Salome], Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. So Jesus, seeing His mother, and the disciple whom He loved (esteemed) standing near, said to His mother, “[Dear] woman, look, [here is] your son!” Then He said to the disciple (John), “Look! [here is] your mother [protect and provide for her]!” From that hour the disciple took her into his own home.
Thirty-four years of pondering all that had been announced about Mary’s Son all culminated in that moment. How the memories of what had been prophesied, proclaimed, and promised over Jesus must have flooded her mind! I wonder if she recalled the piercing words of Simeon in those moments. Could she have fathomed what it all meant, or was she as perplexed as the Disciples at the horrific torture and humiliation that Jesus endured, and ultimately, to which He succumbed? Was she indeed highly favored? Was the Lord with her, as the angel Gabriel proclaimed to her? Did the shepherds have the wrong message from the angelic host, proclaiming that her Son was the Savior? Simeon’s prophesy that her soul would be pierced had certainly come to pass, but for what? What good could possibly come to the world from this barbaric execution of her beloved Son? Would she ponder and think about the events surrounding the life of her first born Son for the rest of her life? One would have to assume so!
As believers, we too must meditate on the events surrounding the prophesy, birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, not only during the Advent season, but always. What are the relevant implications for each of our own lives? It is in the pondering, the treasuring of these things in our hearts, that we can draw closer to the Lord and know Him. And in knowing Him, we free ourselves to become more like Him.