“Treasure and Ponder”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

December 4, 2016 — The Second Sunday of Advent

Luke 2:8-20


If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say she was probably in no mood to have a serious conversation.  If you’ve ever talked with a person who has recently given birth, then you know that those first hours and days following labor and delivery are often not the sanest moments of one’s life.  Between wild hormones, and physical pain and exhaustion, and sleep deprivation, and the immense, overwhelming responsibility of trying to figure out what that tiny, vulnerable human needs and how to keep it alive, most new parents are not in full possession of their faculties for quite some time after a baby is born.  Mary and Joseph were surely no exception.

Of course, we don’t know for sure what the night of Jesus’ birth was like for his parents.  But I can tell you for certain that the aftermath of our son’s birth was not exactly Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright…  And so I imagine that the reality of the gospel story we heard this morning, that moment when the shepherds visited Bethlehem, may not have been as Hallmark-card-worthy an encounter as we tend to imagine it to be.  Just a short time after Jesus was delivered, that ragtag band of shepherds came bursting into the stable, smelling of lanolin and sheep dung, talking excitedly in loud, shout-across-the-fields voices.  They saw the sight that confirmed what the angel had told them—a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.  So they turned to those bleary-eyed new parents and shared with them the message they had received:  that this child would be a Savior, the Messiah, the Lord.

In those crazy postpartum hours, after giving birth without medical attention, away from home, in a humble stable, surrounded by the sounds and smells of livestock, Mary cannot have been expected to have her wits fully about her.  You could hardly blame her if she said, “I’m sorry, but who are you?  And what are you doing here?”  Or, “Shh!  Please!  He just stopped crying and fell asleep!  Don’t wake him up!”  You could hardly blame her if she dismissed those shepherds unceremoniously so she could nurse her baby in privacy.  You could hardly blame her if she was in no mood for conversation and told them so in no uncertain terms.

But that’s not what the story tells us she did.  Luke’s gospel says, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”

The Greek word translated here as treasured—Mary treasured these words—has the connotation of to keep or to preserve, as you would with fine wine, or gourmet food, or a dear and precious friend.  Mary held on to the words of the shepherds; she kept them in her mind and heart.  Perhaps she was not yet ready to make use of them, not yet ready to reply, not yet ready to interpret all that they might mean.  But she did not discard them—she kept them, preserved them, treasured them.

The word translated here as pondered—Mary pondered those words in her heart—has the connotation of to consider, to consult, to confer.  Mary considered the shepherds’ message carefully.  She consulted with her emotions, with her intellect, with her intuition.  She conferred with her own heart, and perhaps with Joseph, and perhaps with God.  Perhaps she did not understand those words at first; perhaps she did not agree with them; perhaps she was not yet ready to believe them.  But she did not reject them outright—she pondered them in her heart.

Given the postpartum circumstances, it would be entirely understandable if Mary had yelled, or been silent, or burst into tears, or ignored the shepherds altogether, or kicked them out of her space.  But somehow, in spite of the circumstances, she didn’t do any of those things, and her pondering, treasuring response to the shepherds’ message has much to teach us.

Because we know something, you and I, about how hard it is to truly listen, don’t we?  We know something, you and I, about how easy it is to dismiss a message because of who it comes from or the circumstances in which it is delivered.  We know something, you and I, about how tempting it is to assume we know what someone is going to say before it even comes out of their mouth, and to hear whatever they say through the filter of our preconceived expectations.  We know something, you and I, about how often we begin to formulate our rebuttal before the speaker has made the point to which we are already ready to respond.

We know something, you and I, about how this way of communicating shuts down dialog before it even starts.  We know something, you and I, about how impossible it is to have a conversation when the person with whom you’re talking is not actually hearing what you have to say.  We know something, you and I, about how this kind of not-listening can divide children from parents, sisters from brothers, neighbors from neighbors, friends from friends.  We know something, you and I, about the pain that comes from those divisions.

Especially when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances—in the midst of personal trauma, loss, struggle, or grief; or in the midst of divisive national discourse and events—especially when we are in no mood to have a serious conversation, real listening is really hard.  But it might just be the only thing—the only thing—that can save us.

Because you just never know who might be about to deliver the best news you’ve ever heard.  You just never know who might be about to bring you good news of great joy for all people.  You just never know who might be about to remind you that you need not be afraid, for God’s promise is even now breaking forth into the world.

And you just never know who might be about to tell you of their pain in a way that breaks your hard heart wide, wide open.  You just never know who might be about to tell you of their love in a way that makes your heart sing for joy.  You just never know who might be about to tell you of their hope in a way that inspires you to join hands with them to build the world for which you, and they, and God all long.

You just never know who might be about to tell you that the way things are is not the way things will always be, that hope is blossoming right now from a stump that everyone thought was dead, that peace is possible, that hate will not reign forever, that love is even now triumphing over all that seems to stand in its way.  You just never know what you are about to hear—if you really, truly listen.

If God could use a ragtag band of smelly, raucous shepherds to bring good news to an unwed teenager who had just given birth in a barn, and through her, to all the world—then don’t you think God can do the same with your child, your parent, your sibling, your neighbor, your friend?  And don’t you think that God can do the same with you?

Even, or especially, when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances… even, or especially, when we are in no mood to have a serious conversation… even, or especially, then… even, or especially, now:  God is still speaking, still bringing good news to the world God so loves.  May we, like Mary, have ears to hear, and may we, like Mary, treasure all these words and ponder them in our hearts.


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