Christmas week is one of my favourites. After the frenzy of preps and events it seems like the words from Chris Tomlin's Winter Song reflect the pace I'm seeking--quiet, soft and slow. The song refers to the entry of Jesus to earth quite unlike the mighty storm or a tidal wave he might have chosen. No, "he came like fallen snow." Christmas cards with Mary as the focal point, Joseph in the background, the infant Jesus in the foreground, and shepherds and animals looking on, reflect a peaceful family scene.
However, those kinds of cards aren't able to capture the noise surrounding Jesus' birth.
Not just the politics and business of the census taking, but also the exuberance of the shepherds recounting the extraordinary sighting of a celestial company that had announced his coming. As the poet Malcolm Guite writes:
We think of him as safe beneath the steeple
Or cozy in a crib beside the font,
But he is with a million displaced people
On the long road of weariness and want.
In the midst of the chaos Mary's character emerges several times.
Luke tells us that at the centre of the noise Mary takes it all in -- in silent reflection. First, Mary ponders the words spoken during the shepherds visit and treasures them in her heart. Scholar Tim Perry notes the Greek word, usually translated 'pondered,' means combining or bringing different ideas into a coherent whole. It suggests that in silence Mary began to put together the details about the census, the trip to Bethlehem, the manger, and the angelic appearance to the shepherds. Whether Mary understood God's plan for her child is open to question. Mary, Luke tells us, kept these things in her heart. The phrase 'kept these things' is not new. The Old Testament records several, for example Jacob – kept the matter in mind - after son Joseph aroused his brother's jealousy by boasting about his dream. Daniel, likewise, 'kept the words in his heart' after a troubling night of visions. Mary does the same -- she searches to comprehend the difficult matters concerning her life and those she loves.
When Jesus is presented in the temple Mary becomes the recipient of divine revelation once again. This time it comes through Simeon's prophetic word. It wasn't easy for Mary to hear that her child was destined for the falling and rising of many in Israel, to be a sign that will oppose "so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed." Simeon then prophesies that a sword will also pierce her heart. This is not good news for the future of Mary. Her response again is not clear at that moment; doubt, fear perhaps, and most likely more pondering.
One thing that is revealed however: Mary remained faithful to Jesus in spite of her suffering. She models a courageous, unstinting faithfulness.
Being the recipient of the word of the Lord can be as exhilarating and fulfilling as anything you could ever experience. Divine revelation can also cause confusion and uncertainty unless our relationship of trust is grounded in faith in the One who reveals. As God told Simeon through the Holy Spirit that he would not die before seeing the Messiah; similarly, God promised to entrust his secrets to Cyrus and give him the treasures hidden in the darkness (Isaiah 45:3); we too can hear today as we seek to understand what he is saying to his church and us individually.
My prayer for you this week is that you'll find time for silent reflection.
Take time 'to ponder.' Your heart will be strengthened in ways you cannot imagine. The year ahead may not meet all our expectations, but our hope remains because faith assures us that God is always at work on His plan for us.
Deborah A. M. Phillips
Deborah A. M. Phillips is an Elder at Redemption. She is the author of the novel Argonauta. Her poetry, and essays have been published in English and French. Deborah previously worked as a church planter. She taught at Institute Biblique du Québec, and is the former Director of Women's Ministries - Québec.
Silent reflection and good pondering time is sometimes spent on the golf course with Glen.