(Delivered Sunday, December 22, 2002 at Bethany Bible Church. All scripture quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the New King James version.)
I'd like to begin our time together this morning by reading the Christmas story, as it was told us by the evangelist Luke. And because it's Christmas, it seems like a good time to read it and preach from it as it's translated for us in the familiar words of King James Version.
And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into JudŠa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
May we never get tired of hearing that story! And this morning, I'd like to draw your particular attention to Mary's reaction to all these things as it's described for us in verse 19. In the verse just prior, it says that everyone who heard about the marvelous things that the shepherds reported "wondered" at those things. They were stunned by the report and reacted to it with a sense of reverent awe and amazement - and of course, they should have reacted that way. But it seems that Mary took her reaction to those things a step further. The Bible says, "But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.."
I suggest to you that you'll never grow tired of hearing the Christmas story, and that it will always be a fresh and life-transforming thing for you, if you make sure to react to it in the way the Bible tells us Mary reacted.
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I believe that there's an aspect of Mary's personality, shown in this verse, that many Christians have too often neglected. Mary was a great thinker. She is frequently presented in the Bible as "pondering" things or "mulling them over" or thinking them through.
Consider how Mary reacted to some of the most significant events of her life. When the angel first came to announce to her that she would bear a son, and met her with the greeting, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the LORD is with thee: blessed art thou among women" (Luke 1:28), the Bible tells us that "she was troubled at this saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be" (v. 29). Others might simply be overwhelmed by the fact that an angel would appear to them at all, and still others would be overwhelmed that such a thing would be said of them. But of Mary, we're specifically told that she tried to analyze this statement and understand what it meant. And when the angel further told her that she would conceive in her womb and bring forth a son, her inquisitive mind moved her to ask a very good question: "How shall this thing be, seeing I know not a man?" (v. 34). Mary, you see, didn't simply react to things. She was a thinking woman.
There are more indications in the Bible of this aspect of Mary's personality. Do you remember how, when Jesus was twelve, she and Joseph took him to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration at the temple? They left for the homeward journey when Passover had ended, but they soon found that they had lost track of Jesus. They had assumed that He was somewhere in the crowd of relatives and other travelling pilgrims. They were very distressed when they couldn't find him, and turned back to make the day-long journey to Jerusalem and look for Him. And do you remember how they found Him in the temple, sitting in dialogue with the scholars and doctors of theology - all of whom were astounded at His understanding and answers? "How is it that ye sought me?" Jesus asked Mary and Joseph; "wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?" (Luke 2:49). The Bible tells us that they didn't understand what He meant; but we're told that "his mother kept all these sayings in her heart" (v. 51). Mary, again, shows herself to be a thinker, who mulled things over in her mind.
We're really told relatively little about Mary in the Bible. But we are told that, when her Son was an adult, and they were invited together to a wedding celebration that ran out of wine, she had apparently already done some thinking about the matter. She came to Jesus and - as only a mother could - simply 'informed' Him, "They have no wine" (John 2:3). (You can almost see her giving Him the "And what are you going to do about that?" look.) Jesus knew what she was up to; and I believe there was tender love in His voice when He said, "Woman, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come" (v. 4). Mary told the servants - pointing, no doubt, toward her Son - "Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it" (v. 5); and, of course, she managed to get her Son to turn water into wine that day. Am I'm I stretching things too much in saying that, once again, we see Mary in this as something of a thinker - analyzing the situation and working it out in her mind?
Even as I read Mary's words in that marvelous burst of praise and worship at the things that were being said of the child in her womb - her Magnificat, as we call it (Luke 1:46-55) - I see her as a thinker. Her words were undoubtedly a result of the Holy Spirit coming upon her; but they nevertheless display that she had reflected carefully upon the message of the Scriptures, and that she was a woman of profound thought as well as a woman of humble faith.
In fact, I'll even suggest that the action the Bible presents Mary engaged in more than anything else is that of thinking and reflecting in her mind on the amazing things that were going on around her. It should come as no surprise to us, then, that when she hears the marvelous report of the shepherds, it's said of her that she "kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart."
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To be sure, any new mother would spend a lot of time thinking about her own baby. And every mother stores up in her heart the significant events of her child's life. But there's something significant in the fact that this is pointed out about Mary so specifically and repeatedly. And as I read once again the old Christmas story, I find that Mary's "thinking" and "mulling over" of these things stands out as a contrast to the way most people tend to react to the Christmas event today.
So often, we greet the retelling of the Christmas story with a little bit of indifference. We've heard the story so many times before that its true impact is often almost all but lost on us. And what's more, the whole "holiday season" itself seems designed to keep us so impossibly busy and worn out that we don't have time to think deeply about the things Mary thought about. I have come to believe that there's more going on in all that than meets the eye.
Do you remember the parable Jesus told us about the sower who sowed seeds? I think it has a lesson to teach us about the events surrounding the Christmas story. Some seeds, you'll recall, fell along the roadside, and the birds gobbled them up before they could take root. Others fell on rocky soil that was too shallow and hard for the seeds to take root. Others fell among the weeds and sticker-bushes; and though they took root, the weeds choked them out. Still others fell on good soil and produced much fruit. Jesus said,
Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the way side are they that hear; then cometh the devil, and taketh away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. They on the rock are they, which, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away. And that which fell among thorns are they, which, when they have heard, go forth, and are choked with cares and riches and pleasures of this life, and bring no fruit to perfection. But that on the good ground are they, which in an honest and good heart, having heard the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit with patience (Luke 8:11-15).
Think how busy you've been this Christmas season with burdensome things that have absolutely nothing to do with the celebration of the birth of our Savior. Could it be that much of the unnecessary and un-Christ-centered busy-work that has come to be associated with Christmas is deliberately intended? Could it be that the devil desperately seeks to keep people from spending any meaningful time thinking and reflecting on the true significance of Christmas - so that it doesn't take root in them and produce fruit? I've frankly come to believe so.
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I'm convinced that one of the great triumphs of the devil is that he has succeeded in making Christmas into a mundane and meaningless ritual for many people. And he has been able to do this because so few respond to the story told us in the Scriptures the way Mary did. Notice specifically how Mary responded. We're told first of all that she "kept all these things" (or "treasured" them as it's translated in the NASB). The idea behind this word, as it's found in the original language, is that she retained the things that were happening in her mind - perhaps even holding them in her memory. She retained what she saw and heard, and "kept" those things in her mind. They didn't slip past her, but she held on to them. And we're also told that she "pondered them in her heart"; that is - as the word in the original language suggests - that she placed things together for comparison and put the pieces of things together in her understanding. She had thought deeply about them and analyzed them; and, as we're sometimes accustomed to say, she had taken the time to "connected the dots".
What are the things she treated in this way? What is meant by "all these things"? Surely it would have included the words of the angel to Joseph, her husband-to-be. The angel appeared to him in a dream and told him, "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save His people from their sins" (Matthew 1:20-21).
It was very significant that the angel referred to Joseph as "son of David"; because in doing so, the angel was pointing out that Joseph - the man who would marry the mother of our Lord - was an inheritor of the promise God made to King David many centuries before:
And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever (2 Sam. 7:12-13).
The angel was telling Joseph that this promise was now being fulfilled through the child in the womb of his espoused bride. He told Joseph that it was by the Holy Spirit that she was pregnant, and that her Son would be called Jesus, "for he shall save his people from their sins". Surely Joseph told Mary about all these things; and surely Mary kept them and pondered them in her heart.
I'm also sure that Mary thought very deeply and carefully about the words that the angel spoke directly to her (Luke 1:30-37); that "that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God". I believe that she would have thought carefully about what Matthew had obviously thought about:
Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us (Matthew 1:22-23; quoting from Isaiah 7:14).
Mary obviously would have thought much about the words of her cousin Elisabeth - filled as she was with the Holy Spirit - shouting joyfully, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" (Luke 1:42). Wouldn't Mary have thought carefully about how it could be that Elisabeth would greet her in the same way that the angel had greeted her (cf. Luke 1:28)? How could Elisabeth have thought to say such a thing, except it was of the Lord? And wouldn't Mary have pondered what her cousin had then said?
And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord (vv. 44-45).
Without question, Mary would have thought much about the words of the shepherds to her (Luke 2:8-20), who scrambled to her so they could see the thing that the angels reported to them, "Fear not, for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord."
Later on, when she and Joseph brought the baby to the temple to be circumcised, an old man named Simeon met her and gave her even more to think about. He was a godly old man who was watching and waiting for the time when God would bring the Messiah to Israel. The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before he saw the promised Messiah with his own two eyes. Imagine the things Mary had to think about when the old man saw Jesus, scooped him up in his arms, wept for joy, and said,
Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel (Luke 2:29-32).
Joseph and Mary marveled at the things the old man - filled with the Holy Spirit - was saying. He was basically telling them that their tiny baby was the long-awaited Messiah! And then, the old man looked directly at Mary, and blessed her, and told her,
Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed (vv. 34-35).
And as if all that were not enough, an old woman named Anna came right then upon the scene. She was a very old, very godly widow who had lived and served in the temple area from the time she was a young woman. She spent her life in fastings and prayers day and night; and no sooner did old Simeon finish speaking than she also came and likewise gave thanks to God - even going around and telling everyone who looked for salvation about the baby in Mary's arms (vv. 36-38).
These are the things Mary retained and pondered deeply in her heart. She put the pieces together - that her baby had been conceived within her by the Holy Spirit and was therefore the eternal Son of God in human flesh; that he was the fulfillment of God's promises from long ago, given in the Scriptures through the prophets; that this baby was God's promise of a King in the linage of David - the provision for the salvation of sinners; and that His birth was cause for the angels to burst forth with the announcement that it was "good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people".
Mary kept these things and pondered them in her heart. They sunk deeply into her. Have they done so in you yet? Have you taken the time yet to respond to these things as she did?
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This, then, was Mary's response to these things. And that fact explains the life-transforming impact that her response eventually had upon her.
Elisabeth, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, called Mary a blessed woman for believing these things, "for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord" (Luke 1:45). And imagine! - after Jesus had risen from the dead, we're told that all Jesus' disciples "continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren" (Acts 1:14). Mary - who had a greater familiarity with these things than anyone else could have had - became a worshiper of the one born on Christmas. And without a doubt, the reason this is so was because she was one who kept these things in her heart and pondered them carefully.
You have heard the story of Christmas many times. You hear it every year. But have you yet taken the time to store them up in your heart and ponder them carefully? You can tell that you have responded to these things - just as Mary had - by whether or not you end up worshiping Jesus and presenting yourself to Him as His faithful follower - just as Mary did.
May I make a suggestion then? In the midst of whatever else you may do this Christmas season, make sure that you get a Bible and read the Christmas story for yourself. Don't read it in a hurry, but take the time it deserves. Punctuate your reading of the story with moments in which you stop and pray about what God tells you in it. Let the Holy Spirit sink its truth deeply into you. Think carefully about the different stories. Put the pieces together. Ask yourself questions: "Who is this saying that Jesus truly is?" What is this saying to me about God's love for me?" "What is God wanting me to know about myself in all this?" "If all that this is telling me about Jesus is true, and I have come to place my faith in it, how differently should I now live?"
Keep these things, dear brothers and sisters in Christ; and ponder them in your heart. And if you do, the story of Christmas will transform your life.
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