We know why we are gathered tonight. We are here to celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus the Christ.
I had some of you in church this morning while some were not there, but my sermon does build upon this morning. Therefore, I will do a brief re-cap.
The Fourth Sunday in Advent is always Mary being visited by the archangel Gabriel.
Although all angels are massagers of God, Gabriel is the supreme massager and therefore if you have a message that MUST be delivered… he is your angel.
Saint Anne, mother of Mary, was unable to have children. She prayed to God, who enabled her to conceive and give birth to her daughter. When Mary was a young child, she was returned to the Temple in the service of God under the religious authorities. When Mary was about 12-14 years old, the religious authorities decided she needed to leave the Temple and fulfill her obligations as a wife and mother before (potentially) returning to Temple service. BUT, they could not let her become engaged to any man and underwent a process. Mary would become engaged to Joseph, a widower.
This is where the Gospel accounts begin Mary’s story with a visit from Gabriel, whose message is that she will conceive and give birth to the Christ (the Messiah).
That is a job that I would not want.
This evening, we find Mary and Joseph in a manger, but a LOT has happened between Gabriel visiting Mary and now.
Mary visits her cousin, Elizabeth, who had been barren and unable to have a child but was miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist. John would prepare the way for Jesus and his public ministry.
Mary returned, but it was quite obvious that she was with child and not yet married. Joseph is not confident that he believes Mary, until an angel visits him and confirms it. Then, Mary and Joseph do not know what to do. The community, who does not believe them, requires the couple to undergo a “test” in the Temple, which God will confirm or not confirm their stories. Mary and Joseph passed the test.
Now (tonight), Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child are in the manger.
The shepherds have arrived. These shepherds were a motley crew and ruffians, who had to protect their sheep from others. They were not the peaceful men holding the lamb over their shoulders, such as our image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. These shepherds, however, were terrified by their visit from another angel. These shepherds were not sure what to make of their experience, but were now with Mary, Joseph, and the Christ child in the manger.
This is often our focus, because this is our Gospel text EVERY. SINGLE. Christmas Eve.
BUT, there is always one thing that strikes me in this text. Mary ponders these things in her heart.
This morning, I spoke about the willingness and openness of Mary to embrace the service that God was calling her into, whether she fully understood what it all meant or not.
This evening, I am building upon that thought.
“Mary, Did You Know?” is a popular, favored, and controversial Christmas song.
On one hand, some argue ‘of course Mary knew (read Luke 1). Gabriel told her everything, so she knew it all”.
Yet, I argue that Mary did not know everything because it is one thing to know intellectually and to ponder it in our minds.
(I intellectually ponder daily, including the “Things to Do” lists).
But, it is another thing to understand in our hearts and our souls with all our being.
How often do we ponder things in our hearts, our souls, and with all of our being?
It is within this deeper pondering that we find true understanding.
Gabriel told Mary that she would have the Messiah, therefore she should have known. BUT, then the shepherds arrived recounting their experience, echoing her own experience, and I wonder if the message went more from her head down to her heart.
How often do we ponder the mysteries of faith, such as God in human flesh, within our hearts instead of our heads? For me, it is not as often as it should be.
My hope for each of us this Christmas season and beyond is that we take the time to ponder the mysteries of faith… to ponder Christ as God in human flesh and what it means for us. May we take the pondering from our heads down into our hearts, like Mary. Amen.
Scripture was Luke 2: 1-20
Originally Preached on December 24, 2017 at Trinity Lutheran Church (Union City, IN)