Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ-child we are here to worship on this holy day. Amen.
There is an ancient spiritual practice among Christians called Lectio Divina. It’s a way to read scripture slowly, repeatedly and prayerfully. In recent decades, the practice of reading and studying scripture like this has seen renewed interest. At Good Shepherd, we regularly practice something called Dwelling in the Word, which is a similar kind of prayerful scripture reading.
Both of these practices are an important part of my own faith journey. There isn’t a sermon I offer or a word I write that isn’t impacted by using lectio or dwelling in my study and preparation. Drop me an email or give me a call if you’d like to learn more about either of them. I promise they will positively impact your faith journey. Now, before I lose you completely because you are probably wondering what any of this has to do with Christmas or our worship today, stay with me.
Even if this is the first time in your life that you have been in a church for worship, I’m guessing you have heard Luke, chapter two before. You’ve probably heard about the baby Jesus before. You’ve heard about the shepherds and the angels. About Mary and Joseph. Maybe you’ve even heard this story as it is told by Linus from a Charlie Brown Christmas or heard it told through one of the thousands of Christmas movies that exist.
But, I ask every one of us gathered here today on this holiest of nights, have you really ever heard this story before?
In fact, I would challenge you after all the Christmas craziness is over and gone, I challenge you to sit down and read through Luke chapter two again. Read it slowly, quietly, prayerfully. It might surprise you what the Holy Spirit will reveal to you about Jesus and his birth and why any part of this story still matters for you.
Pastor Amy Redwine points us to why this story still matters and who it’s for, as she writes, “Of the four gospels, Luke’s is written for the most ordinary of us, including – maybe even especially – all those who have been pushed aside and marginalized: the young, the poor, the refugee, the laborer. Luke wants to make sure we know that this baby, who is nothing less than Emmanuel. God-with-us, came not for some but for all. Luke wants us to know, there are no extras in this story. Everyone belongs. [Amy Starr Redwine, Journal for Preachers, Vol. XLIII, #1, Advent 2019]
As I began preparing for this year’s Christmas Eve sermon several months ago, I began as I always do, by slowly, intentionally and prayerfully reading the scripture texts for the day. And, as we all know, and I’ve already shared, the scripture for today includes a story that we most often hear on Christmas. The story of Jesus’ birth as offered to us in the second chapter of Saint Luke’s gospel.
I’ve read this story hundreds, if not thousands of times before. I’ve written countless articles, blog posts, sermons and seminary papers about it. Surely, there is nothing new that I could hear from it. Surely I’ve uncovered all that the Holy Spirit wanted to reveal to me in a lifetime spent hearing and studying this story. Surely I know everyone who belongs, who is important in this story.
This year, though, the Holy Spirit decided that I needed to hear something new. Something I wasn’t expecting. Something I had never heard before.
In the nineteenth verse of the second chapter of Luke, I heard, as if for the very first time, “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Mary pondered them in her heart. While everything around her was blowing up with shouts of joy from shepherds and angels and everything else in all creation, Mary was quiet. Mary pondered. Mary.
To be honest, I’ve never given Mary much thought before. Of course, I should have. She is, after all, the mother of the savior of the world. But it is so easy to focus on the excitement and noise and chaos of the Christmas story that I think I may have actually been missing part of the center of the Christmas story my entire life. An unwed, teenage woman, giving birth to the savior of the world, the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us. A birth and a woman who’s experience on that holy night changes creation forever.
And in that moment, as Mary holds the baby Jesus and ponders in her heart what this might mean, she doesn’t send a tweet. She doesn’t rush to her Shutterfly account to change her Christmas card order before it ships. She’s not posting on Facebook all that she has seen and heard. She simply, quietly…ponders.
As Mary takes in all the events of Jesus’ birth, Luke tells us she “treasured” and “pondered” them in her heart. The word “pondered” here is the word symballo in Greek, which can also have stronger and more contentious meanings like “to engage in war with” and “to wrestle with.” Mary takes in, treasures, but she also wrestles deeply with the meaning of the experiences she is having because of Jesus birth.
Later in our worship today, we will sing “let every heart prepare him room.” Will our hearts have room to wage war with, wrestle with, to ponder what the birth of a savior named Jesus has to do with us as we seek to try and follow this savior beyond today?
I’m not going to pretend to know why you are here. I don’t know what you are feeling as I share this crazy discovery I’ve had with a scripture reading that we hear every year at Christmas. I don’t know if you’ve ever had an experience that felt like you were wrestling with God before. Or if you believe that the Holy Spirit has anything to do with our faith journey. I’m not going to judge you if this is your 1st or 500th time hearing the Christmas story as told from the gospel of Saint Luke.
I’m okay with wherever you may be.
As I’ve studied and wrestled with and pondered in preparation for this time of worship, I want you to know that I’m glad you are here today. I want you to know that I’m really glad you and I are able to experience the Christmas story together tonight. To ponder it a little more deeply.
I believe the people who are sitting near you today are glad that you are here as well, after all, they are part of this story too. They might even be wrestling with it just like you are.
And I believe with everything that I am as a Christian pastor that Jesus Christ, the savior of the world whose birth we celebrate tonight, is glad you are here too.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as our journey of faith continues beyond this time in worship on this most sacred night called Christmas, take time to silence the chaos and noise of the world around you once in a while. Take time to wage war with the things that pull you away from your relationship with God. Take time to simply be with God. To make room in your heart for the Christ-child to live. To ponder a little in order to hear the quiet voice of God speaking to you by name. To wrestle with the fact that God has come to us in Jesus, and because of that truth, nothing in all creation will ever be the same again.
Merry Christmas brothers and sisters. Merry Christmas. Amen.