“Glory to God in the highest heaven”
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those he favours.”
Gosh, all that planning, shopping, wrapping of presents, not to mention the cooking and it is over so soon. I trust it was all you had hoped for under the circumstances. Using the first part of Luke’s description of the Shepherds’ encounter with the Heavenly host, we are left knowing that God in Jesus became one of us so that we might become like him, a child of God. Good news indeed.
Holding onto momentous news is always difficult, as I have discovered during the past weeks and months. For someone who wears her heart on her sleeve, and what you see is what you get, it was a challenge. Imagine then what Mary held onto, and pondered in her heart from the time of the visitation at the beginning of her pregnancy until the birth, and through the ministry, death and resurrection of her son Jesus.
All babies arrive in this world with a bundle of hopes, dreams, potential and expectations. This vulnerable baby came with the expectations of the nation on his tiny shoulders, the promise from God of a saviour, hope of deliverance, of God with us and for us. Love came down at Christmas.
They, the shepherds that is, were almost at the bottom of the pile. Only lepers and the dead were considered more unclean in a society where being spotless before God was paramount for worship. Perhaps that might have been what held them back from immediately holding a praise party as the angels proclaimed the Messiah’s birth? It wasn’t the Angel Host that sent them into the town, but the wonder of the baby, and they needed to check it out first.
The Shepherds were so profoundly affected by their encounter with the holy family that they couldn’t keep the news to themselves. They were aflame for God and had to spread the good news about town with anyone who would listen. They were amazed and as they returned to hills, we are told they were glorifying God. In contrast Mary pondered everything in her heart, keeping the promise of her new born son to herself, profoundly affected by the birth and waiting for the Angels’ words to become a reality.
It’s a strange word, ‘Ponder’, it means so much more than reflecting on something. It seems to involve an inner life of reflection, chewing over something in the mind. The dictionary places its root in Latin with the word weigh, as in weighing something up, to debate, question, and turn over, this gives us a better idea of what Mary had on her mind as Jesus developed and grew.
This year we as a nation have been pondering, remembering the beginning of the pandemic. Much has been spoken about the dedication of health workers and frontline staff who worked on regardless; and the thought that the virus did not suspend their fight even for a day did bring hope for this troubled world.
Each year we are invited to return, draw near and visit the new born Christ child at Christmas, I wonder what hopes and dreams we might ponder in our hearts. What hope for today, what dreams for our community and our world? Each week we pray for justice, for peace and for the healing of the nations. Just as the shepherds were the unclean of their day, who are the unclean now and what hope do they have?
The resurgence of covid in the world has dominated our news for much of the last six months and has prompted the World Health Organisation to draw on the expertise of virologists to work together for both cure and prevention. Imagine seeing those medics arriving in their triple layers of protective clothes, like aliens dropped in from space bringing ‘good news’. We have glimmers of hope that both might be possible, the ‘good news’ is slow coming for the children who survived Ebola, corona or HIV, what hope for them as they are outcast in fear and ignorance across the third world?
But, and there is a huge but, in the birth of that tiny vulnerable baby in Bethlehem we were given hope of deliverance from all that the world can throw at us. The Shepherds’ encounter with the baby Jesus from those first hours was a catalyst that set hearts on fire with love for God. And every recorded encounter with Jesus does the same. The disciples, each of those who experienced his healing touch, those who heard his teaching, and all those who have received his Holy Spirit since were and are inspired by God’s grace, mercy and love.
There were many phrases throughout the ages that introduced the idea of a saviour for Israel, King, Messiah, Emmanuel, Wonderful Counsellor, Prince of Peace, and it was in love that God sent his Son to be the hope of the world. Hope down the ages for a people in the light of slavery in Egypt, Babylon in Persia, and in the first century Roman occupation.
Paul pondered what it all meant, drawing together God’s faithfulness from the beginning, associated with the nation’s history of slavery and the human condition of sin. Paul describes how slaves became sons and heirs of God. Leaving us with an image of each and every baby’s cradle, the uncountable number of infants that have been and continue to be, able to cry Abba Father in love and the hope of eternal life.
On the eighth day they bought the child to the Temple to do all that was required by the law and named him Jesus. Anna and Simeon confirmed all that had been told about him. And Mary pondered these things in her heart. As each and every one of us experience a new encounter with the infant Jesus, may we be set alight with the fire of God’s love to spread the good news, the Messiah has come. Amen.
The Rev'd Mo Lunn, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, 27/12/2020