But Mary Pondered
(A Christmas Meditation for Christmas Morning)
A Hebrew Catholic Perspective
St. Luke 2: 15 — 20
This is one of the Gospel readings for Christmas Day each year. Obviously, it follows immediately on from the birth of Jesus as recorded in verses 1 — 14. It is a short passage but immensely rich.
Some Reflections on our Text
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds
said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this
thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”
The Greek original actually implies, “the shepherds repeatedly said to one another” suggesting how much they were of one mind. And what were they of “one mind” about? Going together to Bethlehem to see for themselves what one of the angels had described to them. Their words were “Let us go then, over to Bethlehem”. The word “then” (or KJV “now”) is usually not translated in modern versions but indicates the urgency with which the shepherds were wanting to respond to the angel.
We note that, strictly speaking, the angel did not command the shepherds to go to Bethlehem. They took it upon themselves to respond wholeheartedly to the angel’s invitation.
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the
infant lying in the manger.
The words “and found” (kai aneuron) come from the Greek verb to “find out” implying that they had to search.
We note, too, from Ronald Cox:
“The gospel (good news) is made known to these true Israelites
living the simple life of the patriarchs of old; they are the
authentic representatives of Israel, not the royal house of Herod,
or the high priest, or the learned scribes and Pharisees”.
Verses 17 and 18
When they saw this, they made known the message that had been
told them about this child.
All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by
Christians marvel that these simple uneducated shepherds were the first people to receive the great news of the birth of Jesus. Perhaps even more marvellous is the truth that they were also the first to proclaim it to others. It is commonly held that they were looking after sheep intended for the sacrifices at the Temple, awaiting their call to come into the city. It is very possible, therefore, that their witness was the chanel by which people such as Simeon and Anna (verses 25 — 40) were prepared in advance for their special role.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in
The sentence commences “But Mary” (he de Mariam, in the Greek) in contrast with “all who heard” (pantes hoi akousanter, in the Greek) in verse 18. Sadler (1886) picks up on this and writes:
It seems as if the sacred writer desired to mark a great contrast here.
The multitude of hearers wondered at the time, and soon forgot all
about it, but Mary kept all these words, “pondering” them — casting
them over and over in her heart. The reader will notice how this
whole narrative of St. Luke’s puts St. Mary into the foreground as a
humble, contemplative, observant Saint of God.
Our word “ponder” comes via Latin “ponderare“. Spiritual writers
point out that it is not so much a “weighing up” as allowing matters
not fully understood to reside in one’s depths where they can be
treasured and quietly reflected on as is appropriate. When a boat
or ship was entering shallow water, a “pondus” or weight on a line
was used to get an idea of how close the bottom of the sea was.
We have a saying, “to get to the bottom of it“, meaning to probe
and be able to see what currently is not obvious.
Mary has, since the earliest of times, been held by Christians as the one who pondered, who was prepared to obey God without full knowledge or understanding, yet would quietly reflect and grow in understanding as God permitted. She is therefore seen as a model of prayer. Most commentators from all major denominations hold that the information obtained in Luke 1 and 2 was obtained from Mary.
Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all
they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
Sadler adds a helpful perspective:
They had only seen a newborn Infant in circumstances of deep
poverty; but that sight corresponded with what they had heard
from the angel. They had heard probably other things from the
Virgin and St. Joseph, particularly how the angel of the Lord had
appeared to both of them; and for these things, as certifying that
the long-expected Redeemer of Israel had come, they returned
“glorifying and praising God.”
What an example these uneducated but highly intelligent shepherds are to us. God gave them the briefest of information via the angels and their instant response is to rush off to investigate.
Their second response is just as “vigorous”: they broadcast the event to all they meet, to the amazement of their listeners.
Their third response was to give glory to God for everything they had seen and heard.
That’s quite an impressive model for us. Whilst it presupposes a population somewhat educated in religious matters, nevertheless, it was their personal enthusiasm which dominated their evangelisation.
Finally we are told: Mary continued to reflect on all these things in her heart. That is our model for meditation: one which Christians down through the ages have found powerfully effective in immersing us in the unfolding Plan of God for the salvation of all humanity. Let us pray for one another to stay true to this holy practice.
Luke 2: 15 — 20
Christmas Morning Year C
15 When the angels went away from them to heaven, the
16 So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and
17 When they saw this, they made known the message
18 All who heard it were amazed by what had been told
19 And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in
20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising
Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised