Luke 2:1-20 (ESV)
1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Dear Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit upon us so that as we ponder on the birth of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, we may receive great joy. Amen.
As we listen again to the familiar message of Jesus’ birth, we hear that Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
But, before we ponder what Mary was treasuring, I wonder, what are you treasuring? What are you pondering in your heart?
Maybe you’re treasuring a gift you’ve already received for Christmas. You may be pondering how long the sermon is going to go for so you can go home quickly and enjoy your gift once more.
Maybe you haven’t opened some gifts yet and so you don’t know what treasures still await you. You may be pondering the size, shape, and weight of your gifts and are still trying to guess what’s inside.
Maybe you’re treasuring the presence of family for Christmas and pondering what preparations you still need to arrange so you can all enjoy a scrumptious Christmas lunch in all its splendour.
Maybe you’re treasuring a few days away from work over Christmas and pondering how you may enjoy the freedom from your daily routines and work pressures.
Maybe you’re treasuring a few moments of silence in a house filled with noise and movement and are pondering how you may escape from family and friends without them noticing.
It’s also possible you aren’t so much treasuring what you currently have, but are treasuring what you used to have.
You may treasure the memories of Christmases past that you now miss as families grow up and move away. You may treasure the health and vitality you no longer have. You may be pondering on the loss of some of the things or some people you once treasured. You may ponder what your family are up to as they celebrate Christmas without you. You may also treasure the freedoms we used to have and are pondering how long we have to wear these masks which hide our smiles and smother our praise of God!
Among all the trappings of Christmas, among all the busy thoughts of what still needs to be done, among all your treasured gifts, and among your many ponderings and worries and changes to your way of life, I invite you to sit with Mary for a while and consider what she may have been treasuring and pondering in her heart as she reflects on the birth of her first child.
She was away from home, after all, she was in her husband’s hometown – not her own. The town’s inn was booked out, so she needed to borrow a place to give birth. We might imagine a stable or cave, but it was likely she borrowed the downstairs section of a house where animals were normally kept. But this wasn’t the only thing that was borrowed – even her womb was borrowed for the special use by none other than God himself. That was worth much pondering in itself!
After giving birth she borrowed a feeding trough, most likely made of stone or rock, to place her new-born son in. She probably did her best to keep the straw from sticking into his flesh by wrapping him firmly in cloth. What she didn’t know at the time is that she wouldn’t be able to protect him many years later when thorns and whips and spear would pierce that same fragile flesh. But that’s a pondering for another time.
Unlike us, she had no mobile phone for selfies with her new-born son, no newspapers to post a birth notice in, no reliable postal service, and no news bulletins to advertise this remarkable birth, but despite lacking these things, people would know and remember and ponder the birth of her first-born son for the rest of time. In this case, heavenly angels did the announcing for her. Angels never announced any of our births, but they advertised the birth of Jesus!
But it’s also worth pondering about whom they announced this birth.
Did they announce the birth of the King of Kings to the royalty? No.
Did they announce the birth of God’s chosen High Priest to the Priesthood? No.
Did they announce the birth of the one and only faithful and obedient Son of God to the faithful people of Israel? No.
Shepherds were the ones chosen to hear this glorious message. Nothing against those who look after sheep today, but they were way down the social standing scale of the day. They didn’t have a good reputation and weren’t trustworthy.
Why God would choose to send the angels to announce the most famous and world-changing birth to them is alone worth pondering over. Since they weren’t usually reliable and trustworthy, who on earth was going to believe their good news message of God’s birth on earth?
And so, out of all the people hanging around Bethlehem at this busy time of census-registering, shepherds were the first unexpected visitors who came to gawk and gabble over this baby boy.
They excitedly prattled on to Mary and Joseph about what the angels announced about this baby. They became gossipers of the good news of Jesus’ birth and what it meant, and for whom it was good news for. It wasn’t just good news for Mary and Joseph. It wasn’t just good news for the outcast shepherds. It wasn’t just good news for the faithful waiting people of Israel. This was good news of a global scale!
All people, including you and me these thousands of years later, would receive the same news of the birth of Jesus, which started spreading through the excited chatter of these shepherds, as something good to treasure and ponder in our hearts.
Not only this, but this new-born child is the promised Christ, the promised Messiah. All the prophecies of the holy Scriptures about the anointed holy One of God who would come to rescue and restore his people, whose precious promises have been passed on for many generations of faithful people like Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, David, Elijah, and Daniel, who never got to see these promises fulfilled in their lifetime, are to be fulfilled in this human child.
But there’s more to treasure and ponder over because this is no ordinary human child. The infinite Creator of the heavens and the earth with all their immeasurable complexity and wonder and majesty, chose to come to earth as a frail and helpless human baby who would be reliant on his own selfish and clumsy created beings to look after him and care for him.
He could have appeared in any form he liked. He could have walked around as a dinosaur, or a giant dragon, or a great talking lion, or a mighty heavenly angel. But he came to us as a frail and helpless human who would suffer and die at the hands of his own people.
Because we humans are the ones who needed saving. And he saved us because he came in human form.
Jesus saved us by being perfectly obedient to his Father’s will because we can’t and won’t be obedient. We’re too selfish and self-serving to do God’s will, at least, not to God’s exacting standards of holiness and purity.
Jesus saved us by empowering baptism as the means by which he swaps our sinfulness with his own perfection and holiness.
Jesus saved us by bearing our sins which he took from us into himself so he would become the guilty one punished for our sins with the death we deserve.
We, on the other hand, we go free to receive forgiveness and purity through faith, and receive the gift of eternal life in God’s own eternal kingdom. What an unexpected and undeserving treasure we can ponder over as we receive this heavenly gift through faith!
You see, there’s no greater treasure on earth than to have faith in this child who was born in a borrowed womb and would later lie dead in a borrowed tomb. There are few greater mysteries to ponder over than the incarnation of our God who truly became our Immanuel – our God who is with us in human flesh, who would suffer and die and rise again for you and me.
Soon you’ll be invited to come and receive the body and blood of your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ; the same One who was born at Bethlehem, as he hosts your best Christ-mass meal at the Lord’s Supper.
It’s another mystery we ponder over as we cradle the Lord’s body in our hands as to how the bread is still bread, yet through the power of Jesus’ words, it also hosts the body of our Lord. We also ponder how the wine we sip is still wine, yet through the power of Jesus’ words, it’s also the innocent and cleansing blood of Jesus. But then again, it matches the mystery of how a human baby born of a human mother is also the full manifestation of God’s divinity and holiness through the power of God’s word through an angel.
As you treasure this holy meal and digest the holiness and purity of Jesus’ forgiveness into your own body, you might ponder over the sins Jesus has washed clean from your body and heart and mind.
You might also ponder how you may become a little bit like one of the shepherds who is so excited about this good news of forgiveness and cleansing, and how you too might gossip about Jesus’ birth to those around you as you share what you treasure and ponder over about your Lord Jesus Christ.
What Mary treasured and pondered in her heart at the time of Jesus’ birth is still a mystery to us, and what she started to treasure and ponder in her heart only began that day. Like her, there’s still much about the birth, life, suffering, death and resurrection for us to treasure and ponder over.
I don’t know what you will treasure and ponder over today, but may you treasure…
…the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, and ponder how it guards your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.