What Did Mary Ponder by the Manger?
On this Christmas Day, as millions around the world celebrate the wonder of the birth of Jesus and the mysterious visitations from angels, shepherds, and wise men, I find myself also wondering, what did Mary miss most about her beloved son?
We know something of this young mother’s contemplative spirit from the gospel of Luke. The biblical narrative describes how soon after Mary gave birth in a stable, shepherds rushed down from the hillside, bowed down, and worshipped her baby. Then they tell her the full story of their astonishing encounter with an angel while keeping a night watch on their sheep. “Be not afraid,” the angel said to the terrified shepherds, “for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people.” Adding to the awe appeared a heavenly host of angels singing praises to God, now immortalized in the Christmas song, Hark the Herald Angels Sing.
Luke then writes one of my favorite lines in the nativity story, “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
It’s interesting to imagine what this young mother “pondered” on this holy night. Or in the ordinary and then extraordinary years of Jesus’s ministry before his violent death. She’s nearing 50-years-old when she becomes a bereft mother, her soul as pierced as her son’s body. What did she miss most about her first-born son? Was it seeing his mysterious miracles, like when he turned water into fine wine at a wedding feast that saved her friend from embarrassment, or his preaching to the multitudes who sought him out for wisdom and healing? Did she miss his friendship in their family? Observing his skill as a carpenter working alongside his father, Joseph? His kindness to others?
More likely, as a mother I imagine she missed the little things…perhaps the way his eyes lit up with joy, hearing his resonate voice and laughter, seeing his tenderness with children, feeling the warmth and strength in his arms when he hugged her, remembering his quirky familiar habits, longing for the essence of his spirit.
What do we ponder?
The word “ponder” so describes what I hear from parents after losing a child. Our heart remembers so much. We linger over both minute and major details, trying to fathom how our child can die before us. We, too, recall the important events in our child’s life, but I suspect it’s more the treasury of little things that embody the spirit of one we love, the warmth of their presence in our life that we long for. The way a child snuggled, or teased, or showed sheer pleasure in life. Conversations around the dinner table, or walks together. Painful memories may also ring vivid, and hearts ache over the finality of such moments.We try to hold the visual memory of our child and feel a sorrow if this slowly diminishes.
In our church’s Christmas Eve service, right before the traditional candle-lighting around Silent Night, a soprano sang O Holy Night.
In the first verse, it says:
O Holy Night, the stars are brightly shining,
It is the night of our dear Savior’s birth.
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
and the soul felt its worth.
I suspect for Mary, like most mothers and fathers, the gift of being a parent added to her soul’s sense of worth. As once said, the moment you become a parent, your heart lives forever outside yourself. Loving a child involves our full heart, forever, and gives meaning, even worth, to our days. Christmas often feels especially poignant as we so miss the child we love.
I think Mary would understand.
Thinking of each of you this Christmas night, wishing you a measure of the peace on earth, comfort and joy heralded in the Christmas narrative.
Thank you so much for joining the pilgrimage as we ponder living vibrantly with forever love,
What do you find yourself pondering deep in your heart?
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