When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2.15-19.
Although this morning’s reading begins with the shepherds’ visit to the new-born Jesus, that is not where the focus has fallen for me this morning. What I am taken with is the last sentence: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”
Much happens in these first two chapters of the Gospel of Luke — the story of the infertility of Mary’s elderly relative Elizabeth, of the vision granted to Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah as he served in the temple, of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, of the visit of the archangel Gabriel to Mary and of the detailed conversation between them, of the visit of Mary to Elizabeth and of the great song of praise and joy that came pouring from Mary’s lips, of the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth and Zechariah, of Mary’s pregnancy and of her journey with Joseph to Bethlehem, of the birth of Jesus, of the visit of the shepherds. And then, as we move past this morning’s reading, there comes the story of the circumcision and naming of Jesus, of the visit to the temple, of the strange encounter with Simeon and of the prophecy he spoke over Jesus and Mary, of the equally strange encounter with the prophetess Anna, of the return to Nazareth, of the visit to Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus was twelve, of losing him and then finding him three days later among the teachers in the temple — all concluding with words similar to the ones with which this morning’s reading ends: “And his mother treasured up all these things in her heart.”
So the point is? Well, simply that what we have in these two chapters is not really the Gospel of Luke at all. It is the Gospel of Mary. For only Mary knew what Gabriel said to her and what she said to him, only Mary knew what Elizabeth said to her and what she sang in response, only Mary knew what Simeon said when he took Jesus in his arms in the temple, only Mary knew of the frantic search for Jesus in Jerusalem. If Mary had not shared all these recollections with someone — Luke himself? — these first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel could not have been written.
But they were written because Mary had “treasured up all these things”. The verb is syntereo which is an intensive form of the verb tereo — “to guard, to keep.” So it means to preserve, protect, hold close, keep carefully and (as here) to treasure up in one’s mind or heart.
Over forty years ago now, watching the sun set over the Mediterranean from a hillside on the Cote d’Azur in the South of France, I did something which I have continued to do over all the years since, whenever I have realised I am seeing something that I want to remember for ever — I took a deliberate mental photograph of it, registering every detail of the scene and imprinting it on my mind. And that, it seems, is what Mary had been doing from the start. She stored her memories of everything to do with Jesus.
But she not only “treasured up” these memories; she “pondered” them too. The verb here is symballo which literally means “to throw things together.” Mary played things back from memory, “putting two and two together” as we say nowadays, trying to figure out what it all added up to. She talked to herself about it all (symballo can also mean “to confer or converse”) and no doubt talked to God about it too, thinking back through every little detail, asking what it all meant … what its significance might be. Nothing to do with Jesus was treated lightly or carelessly or as having no real importance.
And it strikes me this morning that there is an example to follow here in Mary. I too should be treasuring up every single encounter I have with Jesus, deliberately storing in my heart and mind every word I think I hear him speak, every answer to prayer that I receive, every wonderful thing I see the Lord do; and I should ponder these things in my heart, talk to God about them, ask the Holy Spirit to show me their significance. It is all too easy to just move on to the next thing. I once heard a lady who has an extraordinary prophetic gifting say how much it distresses her when people would have been given a wonderful personal word from the Lord through her one Sunday are back the next Sunday seeking another one from her, the first one forgotten … neither treasured not pondered, just discarded like yesterday’s newspaper.
Lord, help me to treasure every word from you this day, every sign of your presence, every experience of your goodness and grace. of your love and your power. Help me to ponder them in my heart and make them part of my very own gospel. Amen.