December 16, 2012
First Congregational Church of Western Springs
Luke 2:19: Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
One of the many thoughts that occurred to me after I received the heartbreaking news on Friday was that I no longer wanted my text for this morning to be this sweet one about how Mary treasured the joyous words of the shepherd. I love that scripture. I was all ready to share this feel-good message about how we could follow Mary’s lead in our Christmas celebrations. Instead of analyzing this sacred story in our minds, we might join her in pondering it in our hearts. But I don’t have it in me to offer the feel-good message. As we have acknowledged, that candle burning for joy feels terribly out of place when so many hearts are broken.
The scripture that resonates more is the one a few verses further into the gospel of Luke, when Mary and Joseph present their infant son in the temple. An old man named Simeon catches sight of Jesus and recognizes that he is the One. He is overjoyed that he has lived long enough to see the Messiah with his own tired eyes. And then, after singing a happy song of salvation, he turns to Mary and speaks chilling words: a sword will pierce her soul.
I wonder if Mary treasured those words as well, if she pondered in her heart the prophecy that she would suffer such a depth of pain that her very soul would be rent.
When it comes down to it, I can’t pick one verse or the other. The fact of the matter is this: life is full of extraordinary good and unfathomable evil. There is much to cause us delight – and much to cause us pain. The Bible would be woefully irrelevant if it didn’t reflect the fullness of human experience, in all its beauty and agony. So it is only right that young Mary, the girl chosen to be the mother of God’s son, would know both joy and sorrow.
But even more important than Mary’s joy and sorrow are the proclamations and prophecies that she ponders. The shepherds burst in right after Jesus was born, echoing the angel’s message of peace. The savior is born, the Messiah, the King. Glory to God in the highest. Simeon’s words aren’t all that different. He concurs: this is the Messiah. “My eyes have seen your salvation,” he shouts, praising God. And Simeon seems to know what we all know is coming. It is so hard to start thinking about the cross when the savior is yet still a child. Jesus, the little nursling king, will be crucified and scorned as the King of the Jews. It’s hardly fair for Simeon to point this out to his postpartum mother. But this is how God comes to us: covered in blood and vernix, born in a barn as an impoverished peasant. And later, covered in blood and tears, killed on a cross as an ordinary criminal.
This is how God comes to save us. It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t even finished; we continue to wait and ask: how long, O Lord, until you come again to judge the living and the dead? But at the heart and soul of the Christian faith is the conviction that God, in the entirely unique person of Jesus Christ, shall make all things new. Every tear shall be wiped away, every sin forgiven. Every loss restored.
I don’t know how this happens. I don’t know when this happens. I just know that the son of Mary is the light in the darkness. The son of Mary is the hope of the world. The son of Mary is the Prince of Peace.
Yesterday afternoon I sat in this sanctuary as members of our community came to sit vigil, pray, and light candles. I opened my bible and recognized our anguish in the psalms of lamentation. Yet even the bitterest prayer I read ended with a word of hope. God will deliver us, the psalmist whispered, even as the tears were still streaming down his cheeks. And so I turned my bible to the salvation story. I read, cover to cover, the gospel of Mark. The good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. And even as the tears were still streaming down my cheeks, I treasured these words and pondered them in my heart.
Our advent wreath may seem like a feeble, foolish attempt to chase away a darkness far too vast for a rose-colored candle. But God has spoken plainly in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Death does not have the final word. The darkness does not overcome the light. Those who mourn now will be blessed. Those who weep now will be comforted. The son of Mary is our salvation, and he shall bring peace.
Treasure these words and ponder them in your hearts.