“All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Words from our Gospel today from the 2nd chapter of the Gospel according to St. Luke – sisters and brothers, may the Lord give to you his peace and his Christmas joy.
And the Word was Made Flesh – and Dwells among us. That is the meaning and the joy of Christmas. And we continue to reflect on this in deeper ways as we contemplate with the Church today this solemnity of the motherhood of God, which says as much to us about Jesus as it does about Mary; that Jesus is truly God and truly man, a human being like us, born into a family, with a mother like us all. So today we reflect on the birth of Christ and welcoming Jesus into our worlds through the eyes of a mother and what the means for us.
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and first announced God’s plan to her and she said, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” when she said yes to God’s plan, she didn’t get at that moment a handbook on how to be a perfect parent. She had to figure out her vocation like all of us do and be guided by her faith along the way. Very practically, she asked the angel, “How can this be?” Mary was going to learn throughout the rest of her life what it means to cooperate with God’s plan, to see for herself that nothing is impossible for God, that God’s grace continues to literally break into our lives, and how, in turn, our yes to God’s plan needs to be affirmed over and over again, even if that means risking a scandalous pregnancy, or traveling far and wide only to give birth in a stable, or having naught but swaddling clothes and a feeding troth to place her son in. “Yes,” she agreed, to these things too. When the shepherds of Bethlehem came upon the scene and praised God for the birth of Jesus, as we heard in the Gospel today, Mary was amazed about all the things they said about her child and she kept these things in her heart. And later when Jesus was lost in the temple area, she was obviously concerned, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety? So even the Holy Family had some dysfunctionality, which I think it is a good reminder to us, much like some of the billboards you’ve seen on the side of the road around Western New York, that just because we’re not perfect does not mean that we could never be perfect parents, that we couldn’t be a holy family. Dysfunctional maybe, but holy, yes, still possible for God and for us. Anyway, of this same episode of Jesus being found in the temple, again the Scriptures say, Mary pondered all things in her heart. One translation of this is treasured – she treasured all these things in her heart – which I think is certainly appropriate to motherhood. Many of us have keepsakes of our children; my mom still has our artwork saved from elementary school in the “abyss” downstairs. But another translation, and I like this one more, says Mary wrestled with all these things in her heart. I was worried about you, my son. Why did you leave us? What does this mean? What, O God, are you telling me, asking of me? How many of us wrestled with thoughts such as these as we were raising our kids, especially when we don’t necessarily approve their decisions? Mary may not have understood, but she trusted that God was leading her through these many experiences of motherhood. Accordingly, her “Yes” to God’s saving plan wasn’t a one-time deal. It was something that she continually was open to and affirmed over and over again, all the way to the foot of the cross. To me, this episode is the epitome of Mary’s trust and hope in God’s plan. I can just picture her, after watching her son breathe his last, looking up to heaven and crying out to God, “But you promised! (2x)” Talk about having to wrestle with these things in her heart. On Holy Saturday in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, when the world is still and all hope seems lost – it was Mary who yet trusted that somehow God could work through this, and she said yes to God on behalf of the whole church keeping faith alive in the darkest of times. On Holy Saturday, we take refuge in Our Lady of Sorrows, which not coincidentally is the feast day that follows the exaltation of the cross. So, Mary pondered all these things about her Son in her heart and we contemplate these mysteries of faith and blessings together with her.
Likewise, how many times is God at work in our life and we only recognize this in retrospect, when we do some pondering? We think back on our day, our lives, or we look upon our loved ones in moments of stillness, and we wonder about them, we wrestle with things we don’t understand, and we realize, ultimately, what blessings have been bestowed upon us! Hindsight is 20/20. In contemplating all these things in our hearts, we unpack the fact that the Word was Made Flesh – and dwells among us. In pondering, we see that God dwells among us still today, still blessing those who open themselves up to that grace and say yes to receiving him, like Mary.
So, with this in mind, I’m going to ask us to do two things. The first is to do some pondering for ourselves and reflecting on those things that we carry in our hearts. You see that there are forms in the Pews with the heading, A Disciple makes an impact, the theme for our parish’s upcoming 175th anniversary. The questions on these memory form ask us to think about the blessings God has given to us in our lives – the important people that have come in, the liturgies and retreats that maybe brought us closer to God, the traditions we’ve found meaning in, the moments of grace that have made us into the persons we are today. Do some pondering and count your blessings; be amazed at God’s work in your life, like Mary. And if so moved, please return those forms to us in the collection this weekend or next, or turn them in at the office or fill it out online as there is even a QR code that you can use. Share your experience with us so that the whole parish can rejoice with you and celebrate the ways that God has become incarnate in all our lives, the ways in which even today the Word was made Flesh and dwells among us, here at St. Mary’s.
And the second thing I’m going to ask of us is for us to ponder: “how can we cooperate with God’s grace at work with us going forward in the new year?” When Mary said yes to God, she was on the threshold of something new, and she affirmed that yes over and over again. What is God asking us to say yes to this year? When we make our New Year’s resolutions, make sure that we that we are saying yes, not just to our own wills and own plans, but to God’s plan for our lives. Only then can we be full of amazement and joy, like the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God.