But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.
One of the most well-known Christmas songs is entitled “Mary, Did You Know?” The simple answer to this question is “yes and no.” She knew that she was going to bear the Son of God. In that sense she did know that “this sleeping Child you’re holding is the great I AM.” (Lyrics, “Mary, Did You Know?”) Perhaps she would also have known the Messianic signs—“The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again, the lame will leap, the dumb will speak.” She would have learned about these in the year she was raised in the temple. What she could not have possibly known was the pain she experienced watching her Son die on the cross. Or the joy at watching Him perform miracles. Or the sadness in seeing Him betrayed. Or the loneliness of knowing she was the only one in her position, that no one would be able to understand her experience as a mother.
Today’s verse, from Luke 2:19, is part of the Nativity story. There must have been some trepidation when Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem with her ready to deliver Jesus and there was no room found in any inn. There must have been lack of comfort when the only place found for the birth to happen was a dark cave. There must have been both confusion and some awe when shepherds showed up to worship the baby Jesus. Confusion as to why shepherds of all people had come, awe as they presumably would have told their story of being directed to the manger by a multitude of angels, and a combination of the two as Jesus was Incarnate as perfect God and perfect man, a child coming out of the womb immediately worshipped as the Lord. And Mary went with it. She “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
We’ve lost the ability to ponder things. The world moves so quickly, and with so much noise, that we don’t take time to ponder quietly our thoughts, our lives, the bigger picture and the deeper meaning of things. We don’t take the time to ponder on our strengths and weaknesses, and we don’t tend to ponder on God’s will for our lives, His majesty, heaven, etc.
There is a world-renowned steakhouse in my town. It is the antithesis of fast food. If you go out on a date to this restaurant, you aren’t going to dinner and a movie. The dinner is the event. This is a restaurant you’ll stay in for hours. They offer a tour of their wine cellar. They have a separate dessert room. The menu is the size of a three-ring binder with explanations of all the kinds of steak they have. (Ok, sorry not fair to be talking about steak during a fast season, and if you are not from Tampa and you are wondering what restaurant I’m talking about, it’s called “Berns.”) Contrast this to the drive-up lane at a fast-food restaurant, where there is not much of a menu to pour over, and your food is ready in a minute or two.
We are living a “fast food lifestyle” which in many ways is necessary and understandable. Our faith journey is not supposed to be a “fast food” experience. This is why we don’t have express services in our church. We savor them. This is why a “cliff notes” version of the Bible won’t suffice. We are supposed to pour over the whole thing. I don’t think anyone over age 10 is going to describe a fast-food restaurant as “an experience.” If you want a fine dining experience, you need to go to a fine restaurant. And if we want a “fine” experience of the faith, it takes time. It requires a place in our hearts to ponder on spiritual things.
I have written many times on the most influential parable in my life, which is the parable of the talents in Matthew 25: 14-30. This is where three men are entrusted talents by their master—one is entrusted with five, another with two and the other with one. The one with five makes five more, the one with two makes two more, and the one with one buries his talent in the ground. There are consequences to these decisions. The master is equally pleased with the one who had five and made five more, as well as with the one who had two and made two more. He punishes the one who buried his talent for his laziness. Just as Mary pondered on the things that were happening in her life, we should be pondering the things that are happening in our lives. How many talents do we think we have? Have we actually identified them? Are we using them or burying them? Are we allowing our lives to unfold based on God’s plan, or do we try to thwart these plans and go on our own way? It is important to put aside some time each day to pray. And it is also important, if not every day, then on a regular basis, to put aside time to ponder things in your heart. Do we know every last detail of our lives? No, absolutely we don’t. Do we know a lot of things? Yes, absolutely we do. Pondering things in our hearts will help us deepen what we know, and make sense in part on what we do not know. If someone asked me “Fr. Stavros, did you know that you were going to be a priest when you were younger?” The answer would be “Yes, I knew deep down that I would be.” However, I am still learning what it means to be a priest and will be learning that continually as long as I am alive, and the learning comes not only through experience, but taking time to ponder the experiences to reveal their deeper meaning and God’s work in them and in my life. You don’t need to be a priest to ponder things. In whatever role you are in, there is room to ponder on it’s deeper meaning and God’s work in these roles and in your life.
Come now, one and all, in faith let us celebrate the annual memorial of the Fathers before the Law, Abraham and those with him. Let us honor as is right the tribe of Judah, and let us extol the Servants in Babylon, the Trinity’s image, who extinguished the fire in the furnace, and also Daniel. As we unerringly cling to the predictions of the Prophets, together with Isaiah we cry out in a loud voice, Behold the Virgin will conceive in the womb, and she will bear a Son, Emmanuel, which means God is with us. (Doxastikon, Orthros, Sunday of the Forefathers, Two Sundays before the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: How often do you take time to ponder things in your heart?