Originally published on the Companioning Center.
Over the past few weeks, the season of Advent has offered a time of waiting, longing, and anticipation. It offers a helpful and necessary corrective in a social culture of instant-gratification and a spiritual culture of always-positivity. There is a spaciousness in Advent for us to sit with our unfulfilled longings and to lament the things that are not yet right with the world.
It has revolutionized my spiritual life to learn that life with God does not have to look happy and clappy, but that God is also present within desire and grief. The season of Advent teaches us this deep truth which applies to all seasons: We must make room in our spiritual lives for waiting and longing.
But this weekend we crossed the threshold into Christmas, so I want to consider the question: After a long season of waiting, what is it like to receive?
To be honest, after something long awaited has finally arrived it is often far too easy to just move along to wait for the next thing. Though we check the package’s status every day until it arrives, once the box is on our doorstep we’re already on to ordering the next one. Sometimes we might even miss the arrival of something long waited for, because the wait was so long it was forgotten!
Throughout the season of Advent this year, I have been meditating on Mary. She shows us what it is to wait. She was the first person to hear the news of the Messiah when Gabriel greeted her with blessing and favor and she was the first one to proclaim the news to others when she sang for her relative, Elizabeth.
Apart from the company of Elizabeth and the kindness of Joseph, her waiting was likely in isolation as a socially outcast unwed mother. During this waiting, she had to make the long hard journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem at the behest of the Roman Empire, only to have no place to stay upon arrival. Mary’s waiting was not merely inconvenient, it was downright difficult. She suffered distance from others and displacement from home.
After months of isolation, carrying a child, journeying across the country, the wait was over. The long expected day had come! Mary gave birth to her son, wrapped him tight, laid him in a manger, and shortly after was met by shepherds with the most amazing story about angels celebrating in the heavens.
This was amazing, but it was far from romantic. After all, a baby has to be fed, cleaned and constantly cared for. It would have been easy for Mary to move past the waiting, and even past the incredible birth, straight into the daily grind of mothering. But there is a wonderful line in the Christmas story that can easily be missed.
Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19 NIV)
Though the angels’ songs were lovely and the shepherds’ visit friendly, this verse about Mary is perhaps even more central to the meaning of Christmas. She doesn’t quickly move on to the next thing or become distracted by the mundane. Instead, she treasured up each moment and paused to ponder. She truly received.
And I wonder what all she pondered. Surely, the good things, like Gabriel’s announcement, celebrating with Elizabeth, the story of the angels, the visit of the shepherds, and the arrival of her precious child. But, perhaps she also pondered the social isolation, the long hard journey, and their lack of lodging—these too brought her to where she was.
In her treasuring and pondering, Mary does not cast judgment on any part of her story. Rather, she contemplated each moment with honor and curiosity. She “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
This is an invitation for us as we journey through Christmastime. Whether considering the past week of holiday celebrations, the past year of 2021, or the whole storyline of your life.
- What does it look like to “treasure up” and “ponder” each moment?
- Are there moments of goodness or quiet fulfillment that have gone unnoticed?
- Are there moments of pain and challenge that you would rather avoid?
Wherever you find yourself and whatever stories unfold, gather each moment without judgment. Hold each one with honor and curiosity.
Christmas is a time for receiving. Before you move on to the next thing and begin planning for next year, take time to receive the gift of this moment and reflect on the story of your life. This Christmas may we join with Mary as we treasure up all these things and ponder them in our hearts.
For more Advent and Christmas reflections on Mary, see my recent teaching series “Waiting With Mary”.