Text: Luke 2: 19 “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
Illustration: “A Special Night in the Civil War”
History records for us an interesting footnote. It was during the dark winter of 1864. At Petersburg, Virginia, the Confederate army of Robert E. Lee faced the Union divisions of General Ulysses S. Grant. The war was now three and a half years old and the glorious charge had long since given way to the muck and mud of trench warfare. Late one evening one of Lee’s generals, Major General George Pickett, received word that his wife had given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Up and down the line the Southerners began building huge bonfires in celebration of the event. These fires did not go unnoticed in the Northern camps and soon a nervous Grant sent out a reconnaissance patrol to see what was going on. The scouts returned with the message that Pickett had had a son and these were celebratory fires. It so happened that Grant and Pickett had been contemporaries at West Point and knew one another well, so to honor the occasion Grant, too, ordered that bonfires should be built.
What a peculiar night it was. For miles on both sides of the lines fires burned. No shots fired. No yelling back and forth. No war fought. Only light, celebrating the birth of a child. But it didn’t last forever. Soon the fires burned down and once again the darkness took over. The darkness of the night and the darkness of war…
–Staff Writers, eSermons.com.
I can only imagine how General Grant must have wondered what was going on when he saw the fires. He must have feared some type of offensive was about to happen. Maybe the Confederates were going to try to start a wildfire to cause damage to his troops. Maybe they were lining up their forces around those bonfires preparing for a major attack. Maybe these were signal fires to alert some foreign army they had convinced to help them. No wonder he sent his scouts to check out the reasons for the fires. He really “pondered” the meaning of it all!
Our scripture verse from Luke 2 comes at the close of the account of the events that took place the night of the birth of Christ. It happened after the tiresome journey from Nazareth, a trip of 70+ miles over difficult terrain. It occurred in a town that was overrun with crowds who had been forced to go to Bethlehem to register their names for the Roman Government’s plan for a poll-tax. There was the Bethlehem Inn which was overbooked with pilgrims and their camels and donkeys. There was the stable that offered them some semblance of privacy as Mary had gone into labor. We aren’t told of midwives, but in all probability Joseph had summoned help as birth became imminent. And what about those Shepherds who came with the wonderful story of the Angels announcing the birth of their son, declaring Him to be the Savior, the Messiah that had been promised by the prophets. Did she wonder why the angels announced the birth to Shepherds and not to royalty? And why didn’t the angels attend to her when she was in labor?
As she thought on these things, I’m sure her mind went back to that day when the Angel Gabriel had first come to her and told her she was to be with child that was conceived by the Holy Spirit. And how when she had gone to visit her relative Elizabeth and her husband Zachariah they had both confirmed the miraculous thing that was happening to her. And then there was the disclosure to Joseph that she was expecting and the doubts he had expressed before God confirmed in his heart that Mary was truly a virgin impregnated by the Holy Spirit.
Yes, Mary had much to ponder as she began her new role as the Mother of Jesus! To “Ponder” is to give serious and concerted thought to the meaning of a particular thing. Mary pondered the events surrounding the birth of her Son, and wondered the meaning of it all.
So, here we are, celebrating Christmas with songs and re-enactments, Christmas trees and lights, candles and flowers, Santa and gifts. But the real focus is on a baby—the Baby Jesus.
And so let’s ponder the Miracle of the Meaning of it all.
I. CHRISTMAS MEANS GOD REALLY DOES LOVE US.
a. Do you ever feel that no one loves you? There are a lot of people who feel that way. They either have no family or are forsaken by their family. I think of the homeless camps in Springfield where people have been forced to leave. I think of children who are victims of abuse. I think of those who are overcome with depression and who have isolated themselves from society. What does Christmas mean to those who are unloved and forgotten or forsaken?
b. Then I think how Mary and Joseph had to leave their hometown—probably because of town gossips and condemning attitudes of those who suspected Mary to have been unfaithful. And I think of the indignity they experienced by being forced to sleep with the cattle and use a feed trough for a manger for their newborn baby to lie in. As I ponder the meaning, I have come to realize that God was sending a message. No matter how forsaken you may feel, there is a God in Heaven who knows. He has experienced that rejection and abandonment as Jesus—the Child born in Bethlehem’s Stable to parents who were being forced into exile. Years later that child who had become a man would say, “Foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” (Luke 9: 58).
c. So, Christmas means God is extending His love to all people, even those who may feel unloved. He demonstrates that love by allowing His Son to face the same rejections and hostilities that others have faced.
II. CHRISTMAS MEANS HIS LOVE IS FOR ALL PEOPLE.
a. Our world is guilty of thinking in terms of class systems and racial superiority. There is a “Them and Us” mentality. When I was in Dominica on my Sabbatical several years ago, I was usually the only white person in the Bataca Church on Sunday Morning. In that environment I was the minority. The people in that church were of the Carib race and were very much like the America Indians (Native Americans, to be politically correct) in appearance. And there were some Blacks in the church. I am from the South and was raised in a segregated community. Experiences like that in Dominica and many other experiences over the years have helped me to realize that being a white American does not give me any special relationship or privilege with God. God loves the lowly shepherd as well as the Rich Young Ruler. “Red and Yellow, Black and White; they are precious in his sight, Jesus loves the little Children of the World.” Jesus came to save all of us from our sins!
III. CHRISTMAS MEANS THERE TRULY IS HOPE.
a. The world in which Jesus was born was very difficult. Israel was a small country that had been caught in the crosshairs of many warring countries over the centuries and was under the iron-clasp grip of an oppressive Roman Rule. Taxes were heavy and life was stressful. The Religious Leaders had become corrupt and exploited the truly sincere worshippers with over-priced requirements for sacrifices and temple taxes.
b. The angel announced, “A Savior is born…” and the Angelic Host rejoiced about the “Peace on Earth for those upon whom God’s favor rested.” And we remember that no matter how bad it seems, there is a God who will one day make it all right. And He has promised to never leave us or forsake us!
Christmas means we have a reason to celebrate. God has committed Himself to us by becoming One with us so that we can be reunited with Him.
So today, let’s put aside our political differences. Let pause from our anxious concerns about those fires in California or those nuclear missiles in North Korea. And let’s remember the Miracle of the Meaning of Christmas—God Loves us and Offers us Peace on Earth and Good will towards Mankind! And LET’S CELEBRATE THE BIRTH OF CHRIST!