When Lydia was just three years old, we got her a fish tank for Christmas. She loved all animals and was never afraid to pick up a frog, a turtle, or even a baby chick to kiss and befriend. Fish in our mermaid’s room seemed to be a natural fit. We bought her a small tank filled with pink rocks and five tiny goldfish, which Tim assembled and hid two days before Christmas. Christmas Eve morning, the morning after the tank and fish were in our home, Lydia woke up so excited to tell me about her dream. In her dream, she was sitting at the dining room table eating “goldfish” crackers when “five” tiny “pink” baby seals “swam up” and became her friends. Her daddy and I just looked at her and pondered. What manner of child was this we had been given who had such an accurate dream about a gift she would not receive until Christmas morning?
That memory came flooding back to me over the last few weeks as I have been pondering the Christmas story in Luke 1 & 2 and Matthew 1. This year as I’ve practiced Advent, I’ve sat quietly in the Christmas story each morning. Reading the story through different translations has made the story come to life for me in new ways; in particular, is this idea of pondering Christmas.
Pondering means to think about something carefully, especially before making a decision or reaching a conclusion; to reflect on, consider, appraise, judge the worth of; or, to think or consider quietly, soberly, and deeply.
Commentators tell us that Mary wasn’t necessarily fearful of the angel, as much as she was troubled by the greeting “the Lord is with you”. This is because these words were a reminder of great heroes of the faith, such as Moses, Joshua, Gideon, David. Mary was likely thinking to herself, “what is the Lord calling me to do for him?”
I’m also sure that Mary was recalling the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 where “The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (God with us).” As the awareness of the encounter settled into Mary’s soul, she was likely pondered all of the honor and the hardship of this announcement.
Joseph was pondering how he was to respond to Mary’s pronouncement of being with child. He faced public disgrace, the loss of his dreams, and being divorced before his marriage even began. Scripture tells us he was a righteous man, but he was certainly facing his own hardships in this situation. In God’s mercies though, the angel affirms to Joseph that his role in the arrangement is also important, as Joseph’s ancestry ties Mary’s son into the lineage of David.
Reading through the various translations has helped color in this idea of pondering for me. Here are some of the other words used to explain Mary and Joseph’s pondering: treasured, marveled, amazed, held them deep within, considered them carefully, stored them in their hearts, meditated on them, held them dear, always thought of them, and committed them to memory.
There is more scriptural evidence of the Messiah’s parents pondering over the miracle of the first Christmas and their baby King. Take a look at a few other verses within Luke 2:
Mary and Joseph had a weight of evidence as to the unfolding mystery, yet no way to contextualize their experience. They faced an extraordinary situation; one prophesied and anticipated for thousands of years, yet one missed by nearly everyone when it arrived. But, in the face of the great fears and great trials, Mary worshipped, remembered, marveled, and pondered.
We’ve all faced an extraordinary year. Yet, unlike Mary and Joseph who were alone in birthing the Messiah, we’ve all experienced the events of 2020 together. Yet, their example gives us much to ponder this Christmas. What is God up to in history? Can we worship, as Mary did? Can we surrender to hardship, as Joseph did? Are we willing to marvel in the mystery, as these young parents were able to do, even as the mystery is yet unfolding?
I hope your Christmas is filled with wonder and marvel and worship. But, this year, I also encourage you to ponder. May you ponder the mystery and the hope and the promises of Christmas. For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be upon his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Is. 9:6, NIV).