Saturday, January 3, 2015

Don't Pack Away the Real Christmas Treasures

In my house, January 1st is the day to "pack up Christmas".  Since we always get a real tree, it is about at the end of its supple greenness and its needles are starting to fall by the New Year. Since work resumes on the 2nd, this is a last chance to carefully put things back in their boxes and organize them in the basement, as well as vacuum the living room where the decorations have crowded our living space.

But if Advent has "worked" and I have experienced anew the coming of the Christ into the world, and  renewed my anticipation of His second coming, then I don't really want to pack up Christmas, just the cultural trappings that I use to help me celebrate each year. I love my tree and the ornaments that have accumulated over the years, each with its own story or memory. I love my nativity sets, made in different parts of the world, that represent the holy family as African or Guatemalan or Vietnamese.  But, of course, those are just things that help my scattered attention light on the Person who really came. The ornaments and nativity sets go back in their boxes, earthly treasures to be brought out next year. But the truths I glimpse during Advent and Christmas, I want to treasure them in my heart. Not packed away to be forgotten.

I want to learn from Mary. Almost immediately after the birth of her first child, an event loaded with amazement and emotions and exhaustion even in the best of circumstances, she is bombarded with a visit from shepherds telling a story so crazy it has to be true. And at some point the new family is visited by Oriental V.I.P.s, with more strange stories and odd coincidences. Luke tells us she treasures these things, she ponders them in her heart. Not just in her mind, but in her heart. God chose a very wise young woman to be Jesus' human mother.

We don't know what Mary was thinking. She had a lot of knowledge of the Old Testament, and judging from her "song" she immediately put her visit from the angel and her circumstances in context by pulling from Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah. This was with her cousin Elizabeth, another wise Jewish woman, and someone who had some inkling of what was happing to Mary. But things must have gotten stranger and stranger as she and Joseph went to Bethlehem. And her reaction was not to "have a melt down" as we say, but to treasure and ponder.  Yes, she was wise and I wonder if she had a good sense of humor? Did Jewish people in first century Palestine have a sense of the absurd? Was she just going along for the ride, so to speak, that God was taking her on? I don't mean to be disrespectful at all! I am just so curious about what kind of person she was. I do know she treasured and pondered on what was happening to their young family.

To ponder makes me think of looking at puzzle pieces and thinking how they might fit together. Sometimes you look for a long time before you make sense of an odd piece. Sometimes you have to turn it up-side down or even put it aside for a while before it becomes clear where that odd piece fits in to the whole pattern. Is that what Mary was doing with these events happening in her life? In Jesus' life? Did she have to ponder for 33 years before it made sense? And even then, did she see the whole pattern in Jesus' incarnation and life on earth?

I want to learn from Mary to ponder what God is doing in my life. Not to have a melt down, not to be high maintenance, not to toss aside circumstances I don't like or people who show up unexpectedly in my life. But treasure what God sends my way. Ponder how events or people might be part of God's plan for my life, and how I can respond in faith that God is working out His purpose for my life and His kingdom.

Pondering doesn't imply that you have it all figured out. Mary didn't and neither do I. But that Mary treasured these things makes me think her probing was done with a faithful and loving attitude, not a sulky or bitter one. Like Mary, I want to keep my Christmas treasures out all year.