When I think about Mary, the mother of Jesus, one picture dominates the images scrolling across the screen in my mind. It's not her traveling to Bethlehem on a donkey, her being settled in a stable at the hour of her labor and delivery, not even the visits of the Magi and the shepherds after the birth of Jesus. One single moment is etched on my neural synapses like no other: Mary at the foot of the cross, the mother of Jesus observing his passion. There's really not much in the biblical narratives about that moment beyond Jesus' words to beloved John about caring for her, a heart rending last request in any consideration. What registers about this poignant depiction is an earlier time Luke recorded about Mary in those earliest birth narratives. "But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart" (Luke 2:19, and again in similar fashion in Luke 2:51, ESV). As she stood at the foot of the cross those many treasured memories must have sustained and guided her.
it's the thing about treasured thoughts or experiences. The word Luke used to indicate those birth details emblazoned in Mary's heart is distinctly impressive. It actually means to "set something aside" or "to store something away" for later use. There's a sense in this word of "protection" of that which is stored. Mary stored the events of Jesus' birth and later life and protected them from erasure because she knew they would guide and sustain her as she raised Jesus and her other children. In another very practical application this ideal of treasuring something valuable enabled Mary to connect the dots of God's plan for her son's life. Those treasured memories helped her to see God's plan and endure what must have been grueling hours when she observed his opposition, ridicule, and eventual scourging and death.
There's a good bit of debate about what Mary knew regarding the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Over and over the words and refrain of the song "Mary Did You Know" keep this question alive in me. In my own mind I find Mary as one who treasured just about everything. One of those key treasured moments was perhaps when the angel told her how she would give birth to this son before she and Joseph had known each other in marriage. She had asked, "How will this be, since I am a virgin" (Luke 1:34). Luke wrote further, "And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren." Then the angel added, "For nothing will be impossible to God" (Luke 1:37). In my heart of hearts this declaration was stored in Mary's heart too. It was another of those stored treasures than enabled her to experience the certainty of God's plan for Jesus. I mean, don't forget who was waiting for him at the resurrection.
The idea of treasuring precious events and the Word of God in our hearts is one of the heart transitions believers should expect and experience as we approach the hopes and joys of this Christmas season. Sadly, however, we live in the information age and are bombarded with words and ideas and thoughts every single day. Right now many of us are struggling to discern truth in an age of fake news, selective reporting, media bias, and distorted agendas. Surely there are spiritual realities and moments of personal clarity that we should store away and protect, revelations from God that should form the backdrop of all that we do.
Two years ago I retired from active pastoral ministry. Reflecting on thirty-five years of leading four churches and three years on the South Carolina Baptist Convention staff there were several of those treasured truths that sustained me for what I perceived to be the next chapter of ministry for me. One of them stands out so clearly right now. It was in 1972 when I invited Harriet Thomas to attend a college football game in Greenville, SC. Harriet and I had dated three or four times and that weekend with my parents was their first exposure to Harriet. Just before we left Greenville to return to Raleigh, NC my mother invited Harriet to sit on the backyard swing for a few parting words. In that conversation my mother said to Harriet, "Harriet, you're going to be a wonderful pastor's wife". It was a major conversation point as we traveled back to Raleigh and our jobs at Carolina Power and Light Company and North Carolina National Bank. Up to that point Harriet and I had never talked marriage. I mean, never. And, equally surprising, I had never said a word to Harriet about any sense of calling from God. We both treasure those words in motherly discernment these 43 years later.
Several months later Harriet and I were engaged. We were married March 10, 1973. Six years later we experienced God's call to ministry, resigned our business positions, sold our house, and entered Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary to prepare for pastoral ministry. Very often in thirty-five years of ministry those words my mother had spoken in 1972 echoed in our lives. They were words that we had treasured. They had sustained and guided us through the thrilling years of serving God, and some of the darker times as well.
Now, those many years later, I'm praying that the ability to treasure what God has spoken to us and the realities of serving him will guide us through this next chapter. It is the simple grace of treasuring the truth of God's Word, his promises, and the power of his presence as the focal points of life.
Ours is a cynical, almost skeptical world. Many of us enter this season with a veritable sea of emotions that render us ineffective as spiritual influences in our little piece of this world. But, back there are doubtless moments of clarity and truth that would give us certainty and witness to a world that desperately needs it. What is needed here is the simple grace of treasuring.
As December happens and we enter the season of Christ, let us master this grace, and learn to treasure those things and ponder them in our hearts.