We conflate the birth stories of Matthew and Luke, even though it is not proper. So hungry are we to understand this Jesus that we gather every scrap of information, and from it create a mosaic of events.
So, most all of us recall the story as a time when the shepherds left their flocks in the fields and traveled to Bethlehem to view the newborn child and when “wise men” came as well for the same reason.
Of course, the shepherds only occur in Luke and the wise men in Matthew.
Imagine Mary’s shock at these events. Would it not be shocking for shepherds to abandon their flocks at the most vulnerable of times, the dark night? And who were these wise men? Eastern astrologers, or soothsayers bringing expensive gifts to lay at the feet of an infant born in humble surroundings and wearing common course swaddling?
At yet, this is what is presented to us. Shepherds and Magi are all alerted that something extraordinary has taken place in this out-of-the-way location, and they are compelled to witness it. And yet what they witness is by all accounts, not extraordinary as we have said. A child lies in a bed of straw, dressed as a common child might, being born to a carpenter and his wife. Nothing is said or done to mark this occasion, yet the shepherds return to their fields giving praise “for all they have seen and heard.”
And Mary? Why,
“. . .she treasures all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
As well she might, for what she saw was much the more extraordinary than the birth of her child would have appeared to be. Imagine he wondering what exactly was it that had brought them here to her and her newborn?
Yet when you think of it, her treasuring and pondering are not really extraordinary either. They are the things that every mother and father do when presented with the fait accompli: the birth of a new human being that they are responsible for. What had been a future possibility, had now become a most serious reality.
What parents do not sit and wonder at what all this really means. How their lives will change. How they will respond to the challenges ahead. But more than this. There is pondering aplenty about just what is in store for this new life. What kind of life? What career? What loves? What heartache? What disappointments? What triumphs.
Indeed there is much to ponder.
And we sit today, on this first day of the year, pondering aplenty as well. This new year, this remembrance of new birth and the promise we live in.
It is right and good that we ponder today. We must ponder about who we have become, who we will become, what we wish to become. We must ponder if we do enough, too much, the right kinds of things, the wrong? We must ponder what others do and why, and assess its impact and value on the common good. Do we contribute to the Kingdom? Are we a stumbling block? Are we indifferent?
A thousand ethical dilemmas come our way. We are constantly weighing and balancing plusses and minuses and doing it all while holding to certain standards of evaluation. We are not always right, nor are we always wrong. We try to be more right than wrong. But we know that it is in the pondering that we come closest to our Master, for he would have us ponder aplenty.
Jesus calls us to not accept the pat answer, the easy standard, don’t think about it reply. He taught us that things are seldom what they appear to be on the surface, and the easy answer is seldom the best. He calls us to work at working out our salvation.
Mary, sister of Martha was a ponderer. And Jesus you recall, said she had the better part. Wisdom arises not from living, so much as thinking about what we have lived through, what we did wrong, what we did right, what we might have done differently, and applying it to the future.
Ponder today, as you welcome in the new year. For it will be filled with surprises, disappointments, triumphs, laughter and sadness. And in the end, what will matter most is how you responded to it. Ponder well.
- Mary: A Real Mother (junjunfaithbook.com)
- Pondering (ponderinginmyheart.wordpress.com)
- Mary is the Mother of God (catholiclane.com)