Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.
Have you heard the contemporary Christmas song “Mary, Did You Know?” It was written nearly 20 years ago. I love the sound of it, especially when sung by the a cappella group Pentatonix.
So I have been surprised when hearing some of my female colleagues say they hate the song. To be specific, they hate the lyrics: “Mary, did you know your baby boy would one day walk on water?”…etc.
I read that the songwriter Mark Lowry used a series of questions he had scripted for a Christmas program at his church as a basis for his lyrics. He has explained, “I started thinking of the questions I would have for Mary if I were to sit down and have coffee with her. You know, ‘What was it like raising God?’; ‘What did you know?’; ‘What didn’t you know?’”
None of these questions are answered in the song he wrote. Instead, the lyrics can be heard as a poetic invitation for us to ponder the relationship between any parent and their newborn.
Yet, maybe we are all feeling the snark, as there are those beyond my UU colleagues who criticize the whole idea that Mary didn’t know exactly who Jesus was.
Consider this from the Lutheran writer Holly Scheer, who says, “Anyone who has even a slight familiarity with the biblical account of Christ’s conception and birth shouldn’t need to ask if Mary knew, because the Bible plainly tells us she did.”
My favorite all-out snark is from the Baptist theologian Michael Frost, who says it is the “most sexist Christmas song ever written… as it treats Mary like a clueless child….”
I still like it, at least the tune of it. I do wonder what Mary thought and how she kept so calm. I don’t think her calm came from not understanding what was happening or what would happen.
According to the story Luke tells, Mary did know her child was born to fulfill the promise of a messiah sent by God. Even so, I wonder what she was feeling and thinking on the night she gave birth. What were her expectations? What was she feeling about what this baby’s life would be like? What was it she treasured in her heart to later ponder upon from the night when the angels sang, and the shepherds and the wise men came calling at the stable where her baby lay in a manger?
Those of you who may be familiar with the Gospel of Luke know that it is the only one of the four gospels that tells the story of Christmas Night in detail. The author we know as Luke was writing near the end of the first century. Reading his gospel, one can hear how motivated he was to portray Jesus’s compassionate humanity, to show this baby from birth to death was a kind person. At the time this gospel was written, Christianity was gaining a foothold in the religious landscape beyond Judaism. Luke did not want Jesus, or his followers, to be seen as enemies of the Roman Empire.
So, he told a story of a girl who gave birth to a baby who grew to be a model of the compassionate human being, a person who practiced universalizing love, the inclusion of all, especially those considered outcasts. Who could object to that?
I personally believe those who follow the man Jesus can be simultaneously anti-empire and kind, but that’s another sermon.
Luke tells us that there were angels singing encouragement to the shepherds to go find the newborn who would be the long-expected Messiah. The shepherds arrive where Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus are. Then the shepherds go about telling everyone what they have seen. And Luke lets us know before he is finished with this part of his story that Mary “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
What was she thinking? What was she feeling?
The reason I want us to consider this is because I believe that we all treasure up certain things, certain things that we have seen or heard, or experienced. We treasure them up in our hearts and they color our expectations of what will be. Some of us may blurt out those expectations frequently just to make sure all those around us know what we need to happen. Maybe we believe that vocalizing our expectations will make them come true.
But others of us keep those things we have treasured in our hearts very close, even locked away, perhaps until we have the time and space to ponder them, as Luke suggests Mary did.
What treasures do you hold in your heart? What amazing words, sights, feelings, sounds, smells have you treasured up?
This is the season to find the place and the space for pondering. Pondering means spending time thinking carefully and seriously about something that has happened, something you remember; hearing the words again, seeing the sights, smelling the smells, feeling your feelings.
In this day, in this year, when we are overloaded with information coming at us from every direction, finding the silent time for pondering means to take a long pause to consider what is written on our hearts.
If you are a human, you have stored away not just information, but a hope, a longing, memories. Taking the time to ponder what you have treasured in your heart means that you are pausing from the constant barrage of information overload to quietly listen to yourself, to go into the recesses of your soul, the dark caverns of your heart, and ponder what you find there.
Pondering is to think about something carefully, especially before we make a decision or reach a conclusion. To ponder is to contemplate, to consider, to review, to mull over, and to meditate on something long enough to know what your witness is.
The origin of the word “ponder” comes from the Latin pondus (meaning weight), or ponderatus (to weigh one thing against another). In Middle English, “ponder” means to appraise, or to judge the worth of.
I can remember my grandmother saying, “Go to your room and ponder on that for awhile.” Taking the time to ponder is not meant as a punishment! It is a way to become who you are meant to be.
So pondering awhile is necessary for welcoming possibility.
Pondering is spiritual exploration; a good thing to engage in during the next few months.