This article first appeared in the December 15, 2000 issue of the Standard Bearer (vol.77, no.6) and was written by Rev. James Slopsema, then minister in First PRC of Grand Rapids, MI.
"But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2:19
There are a handful of people we meet at Jesus' birth: Joseph, Mary, the shepherds, Simeon, Anna, the wise men. Many of these received revelations from God concerning the birth of the Christ child. Being saints of God they responded in faith.
This was certainly true of Mary. The angel Gabriel had appeared to her personally with the message that she would be favored by God to mother the Christ child. Mary was aware also of revelations that God had given to others about her child. She reacted by keeping all these things and pondering them in her heart. This is the response of faith.
This must also be our response to the marvelous news of Christ's birth.
What Mary kept and pondered in her heart was, first, what the shepherds had told her and Joseph when they came to see the babe on the very night of His birth. What amazing things they had to tell. They told of an angel who suddenly appeared to them that very night, breaking the darkness of night with the glory light of heaven. They told of their great fear. But above all they told of the angel's wonderful message. He had glad tidings of great joy, not just for them but for all people. Born this very night in the city of David is a Savior, Christ the Lord. And there was a sign for them. They would find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. But there was more. Suddenly the heavens were filled with a host of angels saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will to men.
These glad tidings of the shepherds were nothing new to Mary. They only brought to mind what she already knew. For, some nine months earlier, the angel Gabriel had appeared to her in Nazareth with the good news that she would mother the Christ child. He had informed her that she had found favor with God. In God's wonderful favor she would bring forth a son, whose name must be Jesus. He would be great and would be called the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God would give to Him the throne of His father David. On that throne He would reign over the house of David forever; and of His kingdom there would be no end. What an amazing thing! And most amazing was the fact that this child would not be naturally conceived, but conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit, so that he would be called the Son of God. There could be no doubt about it: This child would be the Messiah promised long ago.
This message of the angel Gabriel had been confirmed to her by the revelation given to Joseph, her espoused husband. Yes, the word of the angel Gabriel had come to pass. Mary conceived as a virgin and was found with child. Because Joseph could only conclude adultery on Mary's part, he was determined to put her away. However, the angel came to Joseph in a dream to inform him that Mary's babe had been conceived by the Holy Spirit. Joseph must take Mary to be his wife and must name the baby Jesus.
And now, on the very night that her baby was born, the shepherds came. They spoke of the appearance of the angels announcing the birth of her son, the birth of the great Savior. Mary's mind must have been flooded with all that had transpired and all that had been revealed.
All these things Mary kept and pondered in her heart.
This was not the case with the citizens of Bethlehem. The citizens of Bethlehem had essentially the same information as Mary. For after their visit to the manger the shepherds made known abroad the sayings that were told them about the child (v. 17). All in the vicinity of Bethlehem were told of the angels and their message.
Nor was this the first news around Bethlehem of this nature. About a year before this the aged Zacharias had strangely exited the temple in Jerusalem deaf and dumb. The people had concluded that he had seen a vision. Later, Elisabeth his wife miraculously gave birth to a child in her old age. When the babe was circumcised on the eighth day, Zacharias' tongue was loosed. What wonderful things he had to tell. He spoke of an angel that appeared to him in the temple. According to the word of this heavenly messenger, the little baby John was sent to prepare the way for the great Messiah.
In light of these irrefutable facts, the story of the shepherds could hardly be dismissed.
And all they that heard it wondered at these things which were told them by the shepherds. This means that they marveled. They were amazed, awestruck.
But for all that, they did not come to see the baby Jesus. We would expect people crowding the stable to see the baby of whom the shepherds spoke. But there is no mention of such in the Scriptures. Evidently, for all their amazement, the people did not come to the manger scene as the shepherds had.
What explains this?
This is the response of unbelief.
The people of Israel at this time looked for a savior. But in unbelief they looked not for the Savior promised by God in the Old Testament Scriptures. This Savior was one who would come to save the people of God from their sins. He would be a heavenly, spiritual Savior. The people in their unbelief had long ago lost sight of such a Savior. Their heart was set on an earthly savior that would restore the people of Israel to the glory days of David and Solomon. From the report of the shepherds it was obvious that this babe in Bethlehem was not the savior they sought. The shepherds spoke of a baby born in abject poverty. This lowly birth was a sign of a deeper humiliation which awaited this babe. He must humble Himself to the death of the cross for the payment of sin. And although the people did not fully understand this sign as yet, they sensed that this child was not the savior they had envisioned. And so they wondered. They could not help but wonder. But this wonder was the awe and amazement of fear. It was the wonder one has at a catastrophe. And as soon as the shock of this amazement wore off, they promptly dismissed these things from their minds, as the wicked are so apt to do.
But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
She did not dismiss them but kept them in mind. She remembered them. And over the course of weeks and months she pondered them. Her mind went over and over the wonderful events that had transpired. She reflected on them daily. They were a source of great joy to her.
Mary pondered all these things not simply because they concerned her child. She pondered these things in faith. By faith she sought the Savior of God, not the earthly savior that had captured the heart of others, but the Savior whom God would send to save her from her sins. She saw in her baby this Savior. She did not fully understand the sign of her baby's lowly birth. But she certainly saw in this poverty a deeper poverty, a poverty that would be her son's in order to take away her sins. By faith she kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Very few ponder the birth of Jesus, as did Mary.
The world makes a big deal over the birth of the Christ child. Sadly, its attention is not on the Savior, the Immanuel, who has come to save His people from their sins. Its attention is rather on a human babe, on earthly peace, on gifts and partying. In its own way the world has done the same with Jesus' birth as Israel did long ago. They wonder at the babe of Bethlehem. But quickly they dismiss Him from their minds. For unbelief will not and really cannot keep all these things to ponder them. The wonder of Christ's birth and the work He has come to do mean nothing to unbelief. They are in fact a terror to unbelief. And so the world in unbelief simply dismisses the real wonder of Christ's birth.
By faith we must do as Mary did. In this Christmas season we must focus our attention on the birth of our Savior, the Immanuel, who has come to save His people from their sins. And we must go beyond that, pondering all the works of salvation implied in and made possible by Jesus' birth. Mary, in her ponderings, could not clearly see all these things. In the light of fuller revelation, we can. We can see the trail begun in the stable lead to the humility of the cross and the glory of the resurrection. We can see in Bethlehem's poverty the riches and glory that Christ now enjoys at God's right hand. From Bethlehem we can see even to the end of the world, when Bethlehem's babe will come on the clouds of glory to judge the living and the dead.
And in all these works, which have their beginnings in Bethlehem, we can see our salvation. On these things we must ponder, not just for the season of Christmas, but beyond to every season of our lives.
Rev. James Slopsema (Wife: Joan)
Ordained: September 1974
Pastorates: First, Edgerton, MN - 1974; Randolph, WI - 1982; Hope, Walker, MI - 1986; First, Grand Rapids, MI - 1995; Emeritus, July 2014Website: www.firstprchurch.org/
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