“Ponder and Praise”
December 24, 2001
Honor God this Christmas by pondering and praising his work.
I. Marys Pondering (Luke 2:19)
II. The Shepherds Praise (Luke 2:20)
MessagePsalm 95 is a favorite for many people because of its double image of worship. Psalm 95:1 says Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation. Let us come before him with thanksgiving and extol him with music and song. Thats very verbal, very demonstrative praise. But Psalm 95:6 says Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care. Thats quiet and contemplative worship. Both kinds are important. Some people lean toward one, some toward the other, but both kinds can be important to each of us.
Weve been considering the Christmas weve always longed for. Weve watched Mary, Jesus mother cope with what may have been the most incredible announcement of all time. Weve listened as she has praised the Lord her Savior. Weve witnessed the poverty of Jesus birth and heard the announcement to lowly shepherds. And I hope weve learned some things: to take time out for reflection, to keep a focus on Christ, to keep working on that focus despite distractions and circumstances.
Now its Christmas Eve: how do we bring these things together as the season comes to a focus? Were going to look tonight at just two verses in chapter 2 of Luke - 19 and 20. In them we are going to see two distinct yet complementary responses to the Christmas event. In these first few minutes were going to look again at Mary: her response was contemplative, to ponder these things and turn them over in her heart, to tease out all the wonder of what God had done and was doing. Later well look at the shepherds: they had a more demonstrative response to the good news they had seen and heard: they glorified and praised God for all he had done. My recommendation to you this Christmas Eve is to imitate both Mary and the shepherds: honor God this Christmas by pondering and praising his work.
I. Marys Pondering (Luke 2:19)
Mary pondered. She considered. She meditated. She contemplated the wonder of all that had happened. Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
It had been a marvelous journey for Mary - from a simple and predictable village life to the center of Gods plan for the universe. What might she have pondered that Christmas night after the shepherds came and announced the announcement of her sons birth. No doubt she her heart was full with the wonder of all that had happened and what it meant. What did she think about in those moments? Maybe the same contrasts, the same wonders, that we have pondered. The wonder of the incarnation is the infinite becoming finite. As one hymn writer said, God , contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.
Mary may have pondered that in Jesus timelessness stepped into time. As God, Jesus was eternal, timeless, creator and Lord of time. In the incarnation, he stepped into time and knew its flow from moment to moment. He felt the same cycles of hunger and weariness, sleep and refreshment we feel. He had days when there was too much to do, and moments when time seemed to move too fast, or to stretch too slow.
Just as he had once been present in all of time, so also in all of space. As God, Jesus could not be contained by the whole universe, but encompassed it all. In the incarnation he confined himself in an infants body, then a childs, then a mans. The mountains he had formed without effort were now too tall for him to scale. The lands he had spanned with his hand became the tedious journey of days. The vast reaches of space which had been his plaything became tiny points of light gazed on in the night. The infinite took as its home one human soul - and there it remains.
Maybe Mary pondered omnipotence cradled in her arms. The power that formed the worlds, that formed her own body was now contained in an infants 22 inches and seven pounds. The one before whom worlds bow was unable even to sit on his own. The Almighty who had made the seas and parted them, was now limited to parting his own lips for an infants cry. The one who sustains the universe was dependant on a human mother for nourishment. The energy that holds worlds together could not even hold back his own tears. The infinite became finite in her arms.
But this infant also contained all of Gods moral character. Im certain Mary wondered at the fact that she, a mortal, sinful woman, gave birth to the holy one. He who had from eternity past been infinitely separated from sin entered a sinful world and a sinful womb. The holy became mixed with the common. Not that Jesus sinned, ever - but he entered a world of sin, and was exposed to it in all its filth, decay and stench. Ultimately he would take on the burden of all the sin that surrounded him, and in his death he would not only bear it but become it.
And there is no doubt Mary pondered the love of God expressed in Jesus. His love, which filled the universe with light and life was now focused to the finest, sharpest point of any needle in this infants soul. The compassionate, caring, seeking, forgiving, comforting, encouraging, sheltering heart of God Almighty was now hers to care for, comfort, encourage and shelter. God whose heart had been broken countless times by the deeds of men refused to put it away in a safe protected place, but put it instead on the floor among his children where it could be stepped on, kicked, chipped, stained and ultimately broken by those he loved the most. God the immutable made himself breakable for us.
Such may, or may not have been the ponderings of Mary, the quiet thoughts of a quiet heart of worship. My prayer is that such are the thought and attitudes of our hearts this Christmas Eve as we ponder the miracle of the incarnation.
II. The Shepherds Praise (Luke 2:20)
Mary honored God by pondering in the quiet of her heart the wonder of what God had done in sending Jesus. The shepherds had the other worship response. Luke 2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The shepherds were jubilant. Not that there isnt jubilation in the quietness of our hearts. But sometimes youve just got to let it out, and these shepherds were simple, open people who laughed if they were happy and cried if they were sad and rejoiced together if there was a reason for rejoicing. And there is: Christmas is just as worthy of Rejoice! Rejoice! as it is of How silently, how silently.
Think about it for a minute. These shepherds were simply imitating their teachers, the angels. They had been there when the whole multitude of the heavenly host had been overcome with joy and burst through the curtain that keeps them from our sight for one great Christmas carol. If every angel in heaven lifts their voice in Glory to God in the Highest then our voices, like those of the shepherds, should not be silent. We should return from the experience of Christmas glorifying and praising God for all we have seen and heard. All of the things we ponder, of course, are worthy of praise, but there are some other things that also just lend themselves to praising and glorifying God. Lets remember a few of those things.
For these shepherds they may have praised and glorified God for his provision. They were the lowest class of a conquered and tyrannized nation. If anyone in Israel needed a Savior, a Messiah, and a Lord, they did. And now they had seen him. They certainly didnt know all that God meant to do through Jesus, but they knew they had seen Gods fulfillment of His promises. They had seen his provision for them.
In the same way Jesus is Gods provision for all that we need. Do we need forgiveness? We find it Jesus. Do we need love and care and comfort? We find it in Jesus. Do we need meaning beyond this life, and purpose beyond the grave. We find it not in some legacy that we will leave behind, not in some reincarnation as a cow or a king, but in Jesus who is the resurrection and the life. Glory and praise to God.
The shepherds may also have praised and glorified God for a newborn king. They knew that a messiah born in Davids city was destined to reign on Davids throne. They may not have know the details, But they praised God because they had seen and worshiped the king they longed for. They had suffered under the Romans, suffered near slavery under the taxation of Herod. Now they had seen the king who would reign on Davids throne in righteousness and justice. So they glorified God.
In the same way we praise God this evening because Christmas is the celebration of the kings birth - our king - the one who reigns in our hearts and who will come again to rule in righteousness and justice over the nations.
Just as the shepherds looked forward to his kingship, so we praise God that he is king and will be king. One of our most praise-packed Christmas carols is all about his reign:
Joy to the world. The Lord has come. Let earth receive her king.
Let every heart prepare him room. And heaven and nature sing.
He rules the world with truth and grace. And makes the nations prove.
The glories of his righteousness. And wonders of His love.
No more let sin and sorrow grow. Or thorns infest the ground.
He comes to make salvation known. Far as the curse is found.
But both of these things - their joy at his provision, their joy at his kingship are aspects of what may be our greatest joy in the Christmas season, or any season. They are both aspects of hope. The shepherds glorified and praised God because into their dismal existence God had dropped a miracle and a promise. God gave hope to these lowly shepherds who looked forward to a life only of toil and hardship, to receiving only disdain, to barely keep soul and body together. Through this Messiah Jesus, who was Christ the Lord they would find great joy, would see Gods glory, would know peace. God focused their hopes in a manger, in the body of a tiny infant.
In this Christmas season, on this Christmas Eve, there is no greater reason for our joy and our praise and our glorifying of God than the hope he has given us in Jesus. Through faith in Jesus we can confidently hope for eternal life. Through faith in Jesus we can confidently expect eternal peace and eternal release from the trials and stresses of this old world. Through faith in Jesus we can confidently hope for eternal joy in the presence of God. Hebrews teaches that faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Christmas tells us what to hope for and gives us the certainty of its coming, and in this we rejoice.
Romans 5 says it as well as any verses in Scripture: Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. If you dont rejoice in anything else this Christmas season, rejoice that the Savior in the manger has come to give you hope. Henri Nouwen once wrote of Christmas: I realized that songs, good feelings, beautiful liturgies, nice presents, big dinners, and sweet words do not make Christmas. Christmas is saying yes' to something beyond all emotions and feelings. Christmas is saying yes' to a hope based on God's initiative, which has nothing to do with what I think or feel. Christmas is believing that the salvation of the world has been done by God's work and not mine.
Lets rejoice this Christmas. Rejoice in Gods provision for us through the Savior in the manger. Rejoice in a king who stooped to save us and who will soon come to reign. Rejoice in the eternal hope that infant king brings. Let this Christmas teach your heart once again to ponder the wonder and to praise the God who gives us Hope.