15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 

16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

It is hard to imagine how much turmoil, upheaval and confusion Mary has had to manage in the nine months covered by the ninety verses we have read in Luke’s Gospel over these Advent days.

She has travelled through dark and threatening terrain. She has experienced uncertainty, doubt and fear. She has been shunned, perhaps ridiculed; at the very least, her morality and integrity have been called into question. At the same time, there have been moments when she has experienced overwhelming joy and fullness of life.

As this part of the story draws to a close, how will she respond?

Luke says “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart”.

They are interesting words: “treasured” and “pondered”.

It is good to step back for a moment from my life and ask myself – What do I treasure in my heart?” “What do I ruminate over?” “What are the thoughts, visions and images that fill my life?”

Mary holds in her heart the “words” of the shepherds. We are not told precisely what it was the shepherds said to Mary. But it is safe to speculate that they told her of the vision they had seen in the fields while they were tending their flocks. They must have told her of the angel words praising God proclaiming a Saviour born in Bethlehem. They would surely have spoken of the beauty and mystery that stirred their hearts and caused them to make their unlikely trip into Bethlehem.

These are not words that Mary would have easily taken in. They are words of deep mystery. There is no familiar category in which to place the shepherd’s strange tale. All Mary could do in the face of such their report is to sit with the unknowing and turn it over in her heart.

My life is enriched and deepened when I follow Mary’s example. My spirit grows strong when I ponder in my heart the glory of life and the mystery of that force which helps me live more fully and deeply in the world. This energy field of light and love is the true meaning and joy of this Christmas season. This is the power born in Bethlehem and manifest throughout Jesus’ earthly life. Like the shepherds, it is this life I am called to honour in the hidden recess of my heart and to honour in the daily actions of my life.

*

Today I will try to notice where my mind rests. Upon what do I ruminate? Can I shift the stories I ponder and dwell upon the evidence of the light that we celebrate today? How does my life reflection the power of this Presence born in Bethlehem?

 

(Bartoleme Esteban Murillo. “Adoration of the Shepherds. 1657. Museo Nacional del Prado. Madrid)

(Guido Reni. 1642 “Adoration of the Shepherds”)