Psalm 51:10-12; Luke 2:8-20
Every year starting in October, I tell myself I am going to plan ahead and be prepared for Christmas. I’m going to buy all the gifts early, wrap the presents, send out the Christmas newsletter, bake the cookies, and make all the family memories possible all without getting stressed out or waiting until the last minute to finish anything. Every year, I remember my grandmother who would have all her Christmas shopping done in August. All of us kids knew that if you went into her basement after the first part of August, you were not to look in any closets or touch any of the wrapped presents on the table because you would risk spoiling Christmas otherwise.
Every year, I intend to plan ahead and find hope, peace, joy, and love during the season of Advent, and every year I end up taking on more than I should, sending gifts a little too late, and working on last minute crochet gifts for my kids.
But today, on December 26, all of that is done. Either the gifts made it in time or they didn’t. All the Christmas parties are over. The social pressure is off. All those questions of “Should I try to fit one more thing in, or let it go” have been answered, whether positively or negatively. The hustle and bustle is in the past. When we go to bed on the night of December 25 and wake up the next morning, we wake up to a totally different world – a world of brand new possibilities, and low expectations.
We wake up on the second day of Christmas.
In the Gospel lesson from Luke, we hear the story of the angel sharing the good news of the birth of Christ with the shepherds. When I read these words, I can’t help but think of Linus who recites this passage in the movie A Charlie Brown Christmas. The shepherds are understandably afraid when they receive a message from an angel. They are terrified, or “sore afraid” as the King James version puts it. But the angel greets them with these words of comfort and joy: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
The shepherds decide to see this good news for themselves, and they go to see Jesus. They tell everyone what they were told about Jesus. I love the way Mary reacted to their visit. Verse 19 puts it this way: “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” I believe that the twelve days of Christmas–the period of time between Christmas Day and Epiphany on January 6– are one of the best kept secrets in the church. For these twelve days, we can ponder the miracle of Christmas in our hearts without any of the social pressures or cultural expectations or baggage. For this season, we are invited to allow the miracle of Christmas to become new in our hearts, to allow our hearts to be transformed and made new as we remember the story again.
When Mary heard the words of the shepherds, she treasured them and she pondered them. We are invited to do the same. Over these next days to come, let’s treasure the miracle of Jesus–the Word made flesh. Let’s hold them in our hearts, guard them, and keep them safe in us. Let’s treasure who Jesus is and that God is with us.
And let’s ponder them. I love the word “ponder.” In the Greek, this word has to do with bringing thoughts together in our mind and discussing them within ourselves. Pondering is an active word, a word that means the story of Jesus doesn’t just sit in our minds, it takes up residence and moves the furniture around. As we ponder the miracle of Jesus’ birth, we are invited to ask questions, to wonder big wonderings, and to allow the story to stir in our hearts.
Whether you managed to find hope, peace, joy, and love throughout the month of December, or you found yourself frazzled and wishing it was all over, this next, short season of Christmas is for you. Let’s treasure this beautiful story of our faith, just like Mary held her baby closely. Let’s guard it in our hearts and hold it close. And then let’s ponder what it means that God took on flesh for us. Such a miracle is too amazing for words! As we treasure and ponder this most beautiful story, perhaps we will also find that God is making us new at the same time. We might join our voices with the words of Psalm 51, “Create in us clean hearts, O God.” May it be so. Amen.