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Ponder: After Good News of Great Joy & a Savior is Born

Mary ponders as she holds baby Jesus

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19

Do you ever ponder? I mean, do you take time to think about and reflect on a thing, what Miriam-Webster defines as, “to weigh in the mind”?

Pondering isn’t the same as drifting. It’s not the same as what occupies your mind those 90 seconds that come around every other fifth month when you’re alone for the night and your phone is off. That’s not pondering. Pondering means prolonged, intentional thinking over. It may start as a wisp, but when it comes, you hold it in a mind and weigh it a while.

Pondering is effortful for some of us. It doesn’t come as naturally to me as, say, to my husband. He is content to drive for hours with no music, no screens, no talk- content with just his thoughts. Just pondering.

Which is precisely what Mary did after the shepherds returned to their sheep that first Christmas night. Mary pondered.

What Mary Pondered

What did Mary ponder?

All these things. Yes, you appalled English teachers, Mary pondered things. The Greek cuts it a tad tighter with the word rhēma, which refers to a thing spoken. And that “thing” is probably the message announced to the shepherds, recorded in Luke 2:10-11,

And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

So the shepherds probably told those things to Mary who treasured them up as precious things. Maybe Mary sang again. But certainly she pondered.

Pondering Ponder

Taking cues from the Blessed Mother, I’ve been pondering pondering lately. In Greek, it’s symballō. It means to throw together or to bring together in one’s mind, to confer with one’s self.

It is formed from sum- with, ballo- to put into. Symballō is used five other time in the New Testament. It’s used in Luke 14:31, when Jesus asks, What king, going out to meet another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate? It’s what the Jewish leaders did after they forced Peter and John to leave the council in Acts 4:15, they conferred with one another. And it’s what happened in Acts 20:14, when Paul met the ship at Assos, and went aboard.

We don’t ponder enough these days. We don’t let thoughts meet up and confer with them. Maybe because we’re out of practice; to reflect and meditate and think long on the same thing is hard work. So distractedly we drift and rush. Screens train our brains this way.

So with the culture, we wade in the shallows.

If Mary, How Much More I?

But we’re not off the hook. If anyone could have been exempted from taking time to ponder the reality of her Savior Son, it would have been Mary. She nursed him, held him, bathed him. And pondered him.

No one can absolve himself from the duty of spiritual thought... Shall we, with our restless, distracted lives, with our feeble and imperfect grasp on Truth, be content to repeat with indolent assent a traditional confession? Can we suppose that the highest knowledge alone… is to be gained without effort, without preparation, without discipline? Is it credible that the law of our nature, which adds capacity to experience and joy to quest, is suddenly suspended when we reach the loftiest field of man’s activity?

Bishop Westcott, “The Incarnation a Subject for Devout Study

Westcott’s words challenge, maybe even incriminate us. Because we know that the more we learn about an artist, the more we savor the art and that the more we read a good writer, the more we enjoy his work,

If in all other realms this is true, then why- when it comes to knowing Jesus- do we think that if we’ve sung a few carols and prayed a few prayers, “we’re good”?

Why would we think that knowing him and enjoying him a little is enough?

Be Not as the Swallow: Ponder

C.H. Spurgeon calls us to the “holy work” of pondering.

Let your intellect be exercised concerning the Lord Jesus. Turn over and over by meditation what you read. Do not…stop at the surface; dive into the depths! Be not as the swallow, which touches the brook with her wing, but as the fish, which penetrates the lowest wave. Drink deep draughts of love; do not sip and go away, but dwell at the well…

Ponder him. Think on him. Let your intellect be exercised. Come to think of it, that happens to be what Christ himself called “the first and greatest commandment“: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.

And the command is not without promise. Because the more you do, the more you’ll love him and the more you’ll know his love. Spurgeon again: Certain persons are best esteemed at a distance, but not the Savior; when you shall have known Him to the very fullest, then shall you love Him with the love which passes knowledge…

We can’t love, trust, or adore someone we hardly know. If we’re content to ponder the Lord Jesus for a few minutes on Christmas Eve by candlelight we won’t know his love, or love him, well. For that we must ponder.

Ponder like Mary pondered.

Ponder the “Complex Beauty” of Christ

I don’t ponder enough. I’m so often running and doing. But I can take more time in 2020 to keep Christ in mind, to ponder Jesus, strong and kind.

I may ponder the complex beauty that John Piper describes as “coming together in one person of the perfect balance of extremely diverse qualities.” It’s like what we see in a man with bulging biceps cradling a baby in his hands and gentle woman standing immovable for the cause of truth.

That’s our Lord Jesus. He is tough and tender, lion and lamb, mighty and meek. He held the children in his arms and put his fingers into the deaf man’s ears and sat to chat with the woman who’d had five husbands and lived with another who wasn’t. Jesus, who spoke to the raging sea and it was still and wept before he raised his friend Lazarus to life. The Savior, who spoke to his disciples, O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe and to us, He who has ears to hear, let him hear.

I’ve pondered this- this beautiful, complex Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

On Us To Know Him More

We sing about the beautiful name of Jesus, but to see more of his beauty, we must know him more. In her humility and trust, Mary somehow got that.

[She] grasped what much more sophisticated people have often failed to understand: that Jesus is to be treasured and pondered… that there is something so deep and wonderful about the person of Jesus that a lifetime of pondering will not suffice. We can both know him deeply and marvel that we cannot comprehend him totally.

Christopher Ash, “Repeat the Sounding Joy,” p. 109

But it’s on us to ponder these things. Because to us also a Child was born, to us also a Son was given.

And to us also comes the news: a Savior has been born and he is Christ the Lord.

Praise to the Lord, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee!
Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee;
Ponder anew what the Almighty can do
If with His love He befriend thee.

Praise to the Lord, the Almighty

Joachim Neander, 1680

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!

Luke 2:14

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Magnify

And Mary said,
My soul does
magnify 
the Lord, 
and my spirit 
rejoices in God my Savior. 
 Luke 1:46-47

I’m not Roman Catholic.

But, still.

Only 27 percent?  What about the Round yon virgin,” or the Herald Angels’, “offspring of a virgin’s womb”? Or, modern fav-everyone from Mary J. Blige to Clay Aiken to Kenny Rogers have all glommed on to croon-Mary Did You Know?  Yup, only 27 percent.

Shockingly low. Of nearly 400 Christmas hymns, a mere quarter even mention Mary. That places her slightly behind the angels and shepherds; both in 28 percent of the carols analyzed. 
Why so few mentions of Mary? Michael Linton at First Things says the answer is simple.

Our carols are primarily 19th and 20th century Protestant inventions, not a time that’s known for its deep Roman Catholic/Protestant cooperation and mutual affection.  Mary can’t be excised from the Christmas story completely, but in the carols she’s mentioned as little as possible, for fear of turning her into an object of cultic devotion-something most Protestants have accused Roman Catholics of doing for a fairly long time. 

The Protestant doth protest too much, methinks. Poor Mary. We threw her out with the holy water. To our loss.

Magníficat ánima mea Dóminum, anyone? 


Mary did know. Not all. But she did know how to magnify her Lord. And that’s where she’s a model for us all; women and men, Catholics and Protestant. 

How do we magnify God?

Simple answer (again). Psalm 69:30 says, Magnify Him with thanksgiving. 

Mary knew how to praise and thank her God. She started with herself: that God was mindful of her humble estate. That he uniquely blessed her. But Mary’s thanks reached wide, past the great things God had done for her. She thanked him for his mercy for those who fear him and showing strength with his arm, for bringing down the mighty and exalted and for filling the hungry with good things. For remembering his covenant to her people, Israel.

Is there any of us who has not received some special favor from the Lord? What, after all, do we have that we have not received? When your own heart is lifted up, urges Spurgeon then lift up the name of the Lord. Exalt him when he exalts you

Sitting down quietly in our chamber, can we not each one say that the Lord has favored him or her with some special token of divine love? I think there is something about each believer’s case which renders it special…There are some bright lines about your case, brother, which will be seen nowhere else, and some peculiar manifestations about your happiness, my sister, of which no one else can tell. 

I might not be straining words if I were to say to many a sister in Christ here, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” And I might say the same to many a brother here: “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among men. The Lord hath done great things for thee, and let thy spirit be glad.”  

All well and good, you say. But we can’t literally ourselves to Mary’s blessed state; chosen by God to carry and bear his Beloved Son sets her apart. Sure. Mary was a unique case. She was specially favored. Granted. The mystery of Word become flesh in Mary’s womb is great. Yes.

And yet.

You and me, here and now, are part of an even greater mystery. 

What is this mysterious, magnificent duty that God’s granted usYou will do greater things than these, Jesus told his disciples. In a sermon titled, “The Key Note of a Choice Sonnet,” C.H. Spurgeon describes the mystery:

…For, behold, the Holy Ghost dwells in each believer. He lives within us as within a temple, and reigns within us as in a palace. If we be partakers of the Holy Ghost, what more can we desire by way of favor from God, and what greater honor can be bestowed upon us? 

It was by [Mary] that the Word became incarnate, but so also is it by us, for we can make God’s Word stand out visibly in our lives. It is ours to turn into actual, palpable existence among the sons of men the glorious Spirit of grace and truth which we find in the Word of God.    

It’s ours to make our great God look bigger. Not bigger than He is. That’s impossible-even the highest heavens cannot contain him. Instead, it for us to make our big God begin to look as big as he really is. Telescopes make big stars look even bigger, brighter. They magnify. 

Man’s chief end: To glorify God and enjoy him forever. To magnify is to glorify.

“Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the end of the earth, everyone who is created for my glory, whom I formed and made…The wild beasts will honor me, the jackals and the ostriches, for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself, that they might declare my praise. (Isaiah 43:6-7,20-21

John Piper condenses the Christian’s whole duty to this: “To feel, think, and act in a way that will make God look as great as he really is…To be a telescope for the world of the infinite starry wealth of the glory of God.”

We who are highly favored-it’s ours to make God’s goodness palpably visible to our world.  Magnify him with thanks. Bring him into focus with praise.

O’er all the Babel sounds, sing God’s praises louder.

Magnify like Mary.

I will praise the Lord with a song; 

I will magnify him with thanksgiving.

Psalm 69:30