Psalm 148, Isaiah 61:10-62:3, Galatians 4: 4-7, Luke 2: 15-21
Two days after Christmas and some will be turning their minds to other things but the gospel for today invites us to stay with the Christmas story because Christmas does change everything. Luke's account of the Nativity is familiar and well-loved however this very familiarity tends to soften its shock value. In Luke’s account, which is strong on detail, the first visitors come to the manger and see this event for themselves, but they are the shepherds – ordinary ones, ancestors of Bedouins who still roam around Palestine and that part of the world. They were anonymous, simple, ordinary people who lived out in the fields yet humble enough and curious enough to sense that some amazing event had taken place and they must go and see it for themselves. It was compelling enough for them to abandon their sheep, which of course is something a shepherd would never do. St Luke is making the point that it is the ordinary, the simple-hearted, the humble who first respond to the news of the Saviour. Kings and Emperors will follow later.
The other person whom Luke mentions in this morning's passage is of course, Mary. When you think about it, there's a shock value in the idea of ordinary girl, probably still in her teens, being the agent or the vehicle of the Incarnation. After the initial shock, I think Mary's response was characterized by puzzlement, perhaps bewilderment or confusion, and the impact of Mary and Joseph must be quite disoriented and rather full of mystery. Luke's account of the Christmas story ends with the words “and Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart”
That verse brings to a conclusion what was promised to Mary by the Angel Gabriel but it does more than this. It also gives us some insight into Mary's character. When the shepherds came, she listened to their experience. She treasured their words and pondered them. Not content to be simply a passive vessel, Mary engages deeply with her experience meditating on the meaning of this wonderful thing that has happened.
A little later in the story, Luke describes the incident in the temple when Jesus as a boy of 12 goes off on his own causing his parents great distress. Luke says “then Jesus went down with them and came to Nazareth and was obedient to them. His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” As Jesus's life continues to gather momentum, as it were, we all learn that understanding for Mary doesn't come easily and most supremely as she stands at the foot of the cross. When she and Joseph take Jesus to the temple at eight days old, they were amazed at what was said about their infant son. As I say, there were to be other incidents in Jesus’s life where Mary's bafflement was equally apparent.
Today the pressure is for everything to be done instantly with no real space, no real time for thought or reflection. For many that will be equally true of Christmas. Christmas is over for many people for another year, but it's good that we dwell on it a little while longer. God's ways are mysterious and, however familiar the story of Christmas is, if we are willing to ponder, as it were, our life experiences in His presence, we will discover that we are somehow attuned to the flow of His life and His work in our world and in our lives. And it's not too late to wish you once again today, Happy Christmas.
Rev Canon Nick Darby