The line is stuck there at the close of Luke’s Christmas story. In truth it is often ignored or simply skipped over. “Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully” (Luke 2:19, CEB). I like the clarity and grasp of biblical accuracy in modern language that comes from the Common English Bible (CEB) translation. Yet sometimes older translations offer an elegance that captures the essence of a passage. The old King James translation (KJV) renders verse 19 as “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Whether it is “considered carefully” or “pondered,” Holy Scripture delivers us to a deeper truth. Thinking deeply and reflecting carefully on the birth of the Savior is foundational to the Christian faith. There is more going on here than simply Christmas good will and warm feelings to all. While Christmas is about love – God’s love come in the form of a baby named Jesus – there is much more to ponder than simply the vague good feeling of love. The birth of the Savior – incarnation – is the hinge of history. The story is far from over!
Behind the joy that comes to us in this post-Christmas, pre-New Year’s time of rest and good cheer, we would do well to ponder deeply; to think carefully. Behind the good feelings and joyous Spirit is the truth that is contained in Mary’s pondering. It is God who is with us, not just in reverent seriousness, but in the good cheer and the laughter. The Christian year does not begin with New Year. It begins four weeks earlier with the start of Advent, the start of the time of preparation, and from Christmas day forward the world becomes a different place. It is the simple and profound conviction that God has visited our world and lives not as a transient guest for a brief period of time, but rather lives among us during all of the days that follow. We gather on this day for a time to ponder with a truth to share, for a world to save.
Did you notice the simple line that almost laconically closes the narrative of the Savior’s birth? “And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb” (Luke 2:21). The name Jesus literally means “God will save” (See Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, Vol. 2, p. 869). The story ends with this pointed, if casual, reminder of what it is all about. God will save. The naming you will recall is given by the Angel Gabriel at his visitation with Mary in the 1st chapter of Luke’s gospel. Mary and Joseph as parents model faithful behavior for us. They did as they had been commanded. They acted on the conviction that through this child God would save a world.
I always remember the vivid imagery I ran across in my New Testament studies in seminary. It has been offered by a man named Hans Conzelman, a famous New Testament professor. He lived on the continent of Europe. He recalled the D-Day invasion, how it happened, the courage of that event, the troops coming to shore, and the sense that after the beachhead had been established it would ultimately lead to winning the war.
World War II wasn’t over. The combat was still raging. There were still many days – in fact, a year plus – of fighting that had to take place, but one could see the end. It was in sight. One knew the outcome of the war. One knew that there would be a day soon where the Allied powers would triumph.
Conzelman wrote that is the image of the birth of Christ in our midst. On Christmas Day the beachhead had been established. We can see the outcome of the battle. The victory belongs to the God who’s born among us as a baby. There is still much to do. The conflict is not over. We live in a time when that conflict between good and evil rages among us. We have a world to win for a Savior whose triumph is sure.
In the first light of a new day, the famous words of Howard Thurman call us forward in faith.
“When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among all people,
To make music in the heart.”
Let this be a time of faithful pondering.