“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” ~ Luke 2:19
I have a rather specific mental picture of how the perfect Christmas should look. (Doesn’t everybody?) The details don’t have to be the same every year — I’m not a control freak or something like that — but, starting on December 24th, certain elements should be present for Christmas to feel…right.
A beautiful, reverent Christmas Eve service.
Lots of hugs from family.
Children listening, rapt, while Granddad begins the gift exchange by reading from Luke 2.
Everybody loving the gifts they’ve received.
Plenty of time playing games while scarfing down my mom’s amazing Christmas cookies.
Singing with my family from the Oxford Book of Carols.
I feel pretty good about this list. Aside from the gift thing (which is about others, not me, see?), nothing on it smacks of materialism or shallowness. As an adult, I’ve truly learned to savor the beauty of the Incarnation, and to love contemplating, once more, what it means to me as a Christian. All of the above items, in one way or another, provide me with tangible reminders of the truths we learn from the Christmas story.
But what if those reminders don’t play out the way I’d hoped?
Some years, the schedule just ends up all wonky. Time doesn’t allow for some things to happen, or for them to occur in the proper sequence. Other people have different plans. Sometimes, the time I hope to spend in reflection is swallowed up by distractions — not self-inflicted distractions such as Facebook or YouTube, but kids…emergencies…life.
And suddenly, I face an uncomfortable question: When life gets in the way, am I still able to worship?
What about the believers in China, who risk arrest simply for professing faith in Christ? Do they have a mental Christmas checklist? Did Corrie Ten Boom get to spend the WWII years celebrating Christmas the way she remembered it from her childhood, or did she postpone worshiping the Christ Child until she was in more comfortable surroundings? For that matter…what about Mary?
I’ve read many times about how, when the shepherds came to the stable and reported the words of the angels, Mary treasured up and pondered all she had heard. I’ve imagined Mary going on to live a contemplative life, often finding a quiet spot in the starlight where she could meditate on the meaning of everything she’d experienced. I’ve envisioned her cradling the sleeping Jesus and quietly praying in breathless wonder. It never occurred to me that these were luxuries she very well may have missed out on.
She was poor.
She had a newborn to care for.
She and Joseph were forced to flee from a madman bent on killing every male child under two.
Mary did not have an abundance of resources, time included. She probably would have loved to take some time to be alone with God. To celebrate her Son’s arrival in the company of her loved ones. To look up at the sky and just breathe it all in. However, while I don’t know the details of her personal life, it’s safe to say that her circumstances were probably far less than ideal, and that her opportunities for reflective solitude were minimal.
And yet — despite the challenges of poverty, oppression, and becoming a new mother — Mary worshiped the Lord.
Instead of letting circumstances dictate her spiritual attitude, Mary kept God’s truths close to her heart. We know this, because Luke made a point of telling us about it. And only now do I realize how difficult that must have been.
Life sometimes disappoints us. The holidays are no different; in fact, our ideals often set us up for bigger disappointments than those of “normal” life. As we contemplate Luke 2:19, though, perhaps we can remember that, if our treasures are laid up in heaven, nothing external can take those treasures from us. We can, like Mary — like Corrie Ten Boom — like believers who still face oppression today — worship Christ in our hearts as we face the struggles of an earthly life that often falls short of our expectations.
My prayer is that, by God’s grace, I will become less dependent every year on the trappings of Christmas — however beautiful and good and praiseworthy they may be — as I learn to treasure the joy of Christ’s birth in my heart, and to worship Him wholeheartedly. Even if…especially if…things don’t go according to my plan.