The word ponder holds a special place for me.
Years ago when I had come home from my first summer trip to a foreign land in the name of One who loved all, I needed to write a newsletter to supporters.
I could not adequately express how the weeks had touched me. Changed me. Confirmed the trajectory of my future. What clip art (yes, I’m that old) should I use? I looked at a page of images our organization sent to be cut out and taped into blank spots in our newsletters— what picture could capture the mysterious way you can change forever in a summer? In ways that make no sense, even to you? Of how a heart can explode and be more whole by a world never known before?
I did the only thing I knew to do. I said I was like Mary pondering all these things in my heart.
This week I pulled out the familiar text from Luke to read it more slowly, to wait and see what Jesus might have for us as a community.
You know the text well. The decree is issued so Joseph takes his pregnant betrothed, Mary, to his home town. The time came and she gave birth, wrapping her son in clothes and placing him in a manger.
Nearby, the shepherds were trying to stay awake, keeping the flocks safe. When, much to their surprise, an angel of the Lord appeared and, picture it with me, the glory of the Lord shone around them. The glory of the Lord in the night sky, the glory of the Lord around sheep, glory bouncing off of rocks, glory up to the angel.
The glory of the Lord.
“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy.”
And without warning a great company of angels appeared. “Glory to God in highest heavens!” Here I wonder what it was really like, the text simply says, “When the angels had left them.” How did they leave? Floating up? Flying away? One-by-one? Did they vanish or say goodbye? Does it matter? I’m just curious.
Let’s go! So they do.
They found Mary, Joseph, and the baby. “When they had seen them, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child,and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said.”
I picture Mary, still bleeding, sweaty, exhausted, but also exhilarated and feeling the mama bear she now is, greeting these strangers. These coarse men, full of joy and unable to stop talking over each other, standing there, in all their excited energy and then they were off. Like the glory of the Lord, the story of the Lord began to spread, unable to be contained in that small space.
Here is where the text surprised me. I looked at multiple commentaries to see if any offered insight and not one of them mentioned it. So, I don’t want to stray too far or read into the text. Why is Mary treasuring and pondering mentioned in the midst of all the shepherd activity and not saved until the end, as a nice quiet conclusion? We get the pondering line and then “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they head heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
As the text continues, eight days pass and it is time to circumcise the baby.
Ponder offers us two lessons from this text.
First, treasuring and pondering seem to be related. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Pondering slows us down and helps us to focus on what is worth treasuring.
But more importantly, pondering can happen in the midst of chaos. In the midst of the story, when strangers show up and you’re sweaty and tired. When activity swirls. I think this is why treasuring and pondering are mentioned, more like an off handed comment, in the midst of all the shepherd activity. Pondering is such a calming, private word, that I can be lulled into thinking it can only occur in calming private moments.
Don’t get me wrong, I find it easier to ponder at the edges of the day, when the light is changing. Or when I have a moment alone. But I wonder if that’s because I haven’t practiced treasuring and pondering in the midst of the activity of my day. When the kids are loud or the internet isn’t working or plans have to altered . . . again. When the begging won’t stop and the needs seem endless and the funding has fallen through . . . again. When the whispers in your heart wonder if God is good and the disappointment comes as regularly as the tides crashing on the beaches and no one sees your misery.
Perhaps I have confused external circumstances with internal ones.
Perhaps you have too.
Perhaps, we as a community have as well. We’ve slowed down this month with a quiet Thursday (or Wednesday depending where you are in the world). Sometimes, it’s true, we need our external circumstance to help teach our internal states. So we’re trying; we’re trying together to treasure and ponder.
Lord help us. May we be your children who treasure and ponder your goodness to us, in the midst of the chaos of our days.
What have you been treasuring and pondering this season?
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