“Mary,” Citta di Castello, Italy, ©2019 by David Eck

     “But Mary was perplexed by the angel Gabriel’s words and PONDERED what sort of greeting this might be.”  [Lk 1:29]

“Mary treasured all these words and PONDERED them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”  [Lk 2:19]

     As Luke tells the story of the birth of Jesus, it appears that Mary does a lot of pondering! Pondering is an interesting word. We seldom use it in modern English. Turning to the original Greek to get a better sense of what Luke meant, to ponder means “to deliberate, to bring together different reasons, to resolves in one’s mind.” It can also be translated into English as “reason, dispute, muse, think, and consider.”

     When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, saying, “Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you!” She was “much perplexed” by his words and “pondered” what sort of greeting this might be.” In other words, she was trying to process what she was seeing in front of her. After all, angel encounters are not exactly an everyday occurrence.

     And who is this “favored one” he was speaking of? Did he have the wrong address? Was this message meant for somebody else? After all, Mary was quite unremarkable on the surface: A young woman from a small rural town. Surely this message was meant for a princess or a woman of means.

     And so, she pondered. She took it all in. She looked at the situation from different angles. She tried to sort out how she felt about this strange encounter. And she withheld judgment until she got further information.

     After Jesus was born, she did the same thing with the shepherds who rushed into the stable with stories of their angel encounter. She watched as they tripped over one another to get a glimpse of the baby, She smiled as they sang a song of praise to God for his birth. Then, she pondered. She took it all in. She looked at the situation from different angles. She tried to sort out how she felt about this strange encounter. And she withheld judgment until she got further information.

     I like this word: ponder. It’s something we don’t often do in our modern world. We tend to make snap judgments based on little or no information. We tweet, instant message, and hit the anger emoji when the slightest thing ruffles our feathers. We often prejudge someone’s intentions based on a single sentence they said to us or posted on social media.

     I don’t think this is a good way to live our lives. It’s not healthy at all. I think Mary is onto something with this pondering. Lord knows we could use a little pondering in Washington DC. It would be helpful at family gatherings during the holidays. Pondering is also a necessity when we are faced with difficult decisions we need to make.

     So, that settles it. Pondering should be our New Year’s resolution for 2020. As we begin a new decade, a new way of reacting to the world around us is in order. Let’s face it, the way we’re communicating with one another could use a little improvement. In fact, it could use a lot of improvement. So let’s follow Mary’s example and try to judge less and ponder more.

     I have a confession I’d like to make this morning. I’m not sure when it started, but Mary has been part of my devotional life for quite some time. Not only, because of the pondering. But, sometimes, I think you just need your mama. This may seem like a strange thing for a Lutheran boy to say. But I suspect that I’m not the only Lutheran who has a soft spot for Mary.

“Virgin of Guadalupe” Merida, Mexico, ©2019 by David Eck

     Gary and I have visited churches all over the world. Some of them are quite small and simple. Others are cavernous and ornate. In every church we visit, I find myself being drawn to the side chapels and niches where a statue of Mary appears. I always light a candle at that station in honor of my grandparents and great-grandparents. Then I take a seat and, like Mary, I ponder.

     If life is going well , I give thanks for the blessings God has given to me and those whom I love. If I have worries and concerns, I express them to Mary. Yes, I could just as well express them to Jesus. But I find in Mary a quiet strength that I admire. I feel her compassion and tender care.

     Perhaps this is why so many Christians around the globe offer prayers and express their concerns to Mary. As a young woman, she received Gabriel’s greeting without freaking out. She listened to the unbelievable news that she would conceive a child with the help of the Holy Spirit. She was told to name him Jesus which means “to deliver or rescue.” This child would be called the Son of God.

     As Mary pondered this news, she had the faith and strength to utter: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; Let it be with me according to your word.” [Lk 1:38] We’ve heard this story so many times that it can rob it of its power. But make no mistake about it, this is an incredible response. Mary was a young woman of great strength and deep, abiding faith.

     Later, when most of the other disciples fled as Jesus was being crucified, Mary was present with him, along with Mary Magdalene. This is one of the reasons why I think we sometimes just need our mama. This is one of the reasons why Mary is a part of my personal devotional life, and speaks so powerfully to my soul.

     If you haven’t looked at the art display I put up in the gathering space, I hope you’ll do so this morning. Perhaps, the statues and photos will help you to see Mary through my eyes. Perhaps they will inspire you to do a little pondering yourself as we draw near to the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

     As I bring my thoughts to a close, I’d like to share a quote from one of Marin Luther’s sermons on the Annunciation. It makes me think he had a soft spot in his heart for Mary as well. So I’m in good company.

     This is what Luther wrote: “To this poor maiden marvelous things were announced: That she would be the mother of the All Highest, whose name would be the Son of God. He would be a King and of his Kingdom there would be no end.

     It took a mighty reach of faith to believe that this baby would play such a role. Well might Mary have said ‘Who am I, little worm, that I should bear a King?’ She might have doubted, but she shut her eyes and trusted in God who could bring all things to pass, even though common sense were against it; And because she believed, God did to her as he had said.”

     So, friends in Christ, I wish you all a blessed Christmas. May Mary’s pondering heart inspire us to do the same. Amen.

Copyright ©2019 by David Eck