But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
— Luke 2:19
Mary has just given birth to the Christ-child.
But before this moment, she experienced achy-sore back, sleepless nights, cravings. She’s traveled for over a week with her new husband to a town she’s never spent time in. She’s on the last leg of her pregnancy, moments away from giving birth to a baby she’s grown so fond of without ever meeting. Making her way to a lonely place, pausing only lean on Joseph and breathe through each pressure-filled contraction, she finds an open space under a house among the animals. Mary crouches down and begins to push. In the midst of unbearable pain with ripping, tearing, blood, feces and sweat comes the beauty of birth. A loud cry pierces the night sky as Mary draws this bloody baby to her breast, umbilical cord still attached.
I don’t think for one second in these tender and sore moments that she thought this baby was anything more than her son, who she sustained these past 10 months. I wonder if she thought he might come out full-grown, or looking like Thor or some Greek god? Having no picture of what God looks like, no image to contain God, I wonder if she thought her son would look like her or God? I bet there was a sense of fear and apprehension as the day to meet her son quickly approached. But I would also guess that any of those fears or wondering melted away the minute this very human experience came to pass. I doubt she questioned anything as she placed her newborn baby to her breast.
I wonder if Mary slipped easily into seeing her sweet baby as just that, momentarily forgetting his Kingship and the promise of Messiah in these quiet, bonding moments of mother and child? I wonder if perhaps it was the unruly, loud, invasive teenage shepherd boys who snapped her back into how truly mysterious this birth really was? I wonder if those loud shepherds, told by angels about the Good News, brought a sense of overwhelming responsibility and worth to the situation, going beyond a normal birth of a normal child. I wonder if she began to realize, in these sacred moments, that nothing about this child and these moments were normal or would ever be normal?
I don’t believe that Mary, pondering and treasuring these thoughts, moments and experiences, was some passive and chaste example of female quiet submission, but rather an example of Mary being snapped back into the seriousness of this birth. Mary wasn’t kneeling chastely beside a manger, listening to the men speak. She was sore and exhilarated, the human hand of a new baby curled tightly around her finger as she began to actively pay attention to this new thing God had begun to do in the world. It’s as if all her senses went on overdrive, soaking in every bit of the greatness of this whole story and how God had invited her to participate.
I think we have much to learn from Mary’s response in those tender moments. She treasured up and pondered Jesus’ birth and the shepherds’ rejoicing over their Messiah. And in the same chapter of Luke we find in verse 51 that Mary once again treasured all the things in her heart. First, I wonder if those treasured moments were what sustained her through times of doubt and uncertainty. I’m sure there were times she wondered if she was parenting right or if God really knew what he was doing when he chose her to be Jesus’ mother. Matthew’s gospel has Jesus asking, almost dismissively, “Who is my mother and brothers?”.
I wonder if times at like that, for Mary as a mom, she had to step back and remind herself it’s not about her. I wonder if she had to dig deep into her marrow, into the memories of God’s guiding hand along the way, all those treasured ponderings that sustained each moment. Her active participation reminded her that, while she is part of the God-story, the story is not about her but about God’s justice and how she is invited to participate. Mary’s purpose and life didn’t end after giving birth, even though that’s what she’s mostly remembered for. I think these treasured moments helped sustain her faith and remind her of her greater purpose.
What are the treasured moments in your story with God? What are those times in your faith journey that sustain you when you feel God is distant or when self-centeredness tries to pull you away from God’s heart and your purpose in this life? When you are in a place of doubt and wondering where God is, or if you believe anymore, what are the moments of treasure you’ve stored up and pondered that sustain and ground you?
Or maybe when you find yourself unstable in faith, questioning who you are in God’s family as Mary probably did, are there other responses you find yourself turning to? When life gets overwhelming and impossible, what have you fixed or treasured in your life? Have you pondered anxiety or substances? Have you fixed your thoughts on a person or people to meet your needs? Do your thoughts turn to escapism and avoidance? Or do you find the pondering truths of God’s deep abiding love for you sustaining?
My prayer is that you will see that God has given you purpose and value. So, may you see that God delights in you and is always with you. May you see that God’s purposes in the world include your active participation of love and justice for all people. And may you have a Merry Christmas.
Bethany Cseh is pastor at Arcata United Methodist Church