Sunday, December 31, 2017

the pondering of Mary

May my words be in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Amen.

In our Gospel reading today we here of the visit of the shepherds to the Holy Family in Bethlehem. And an interesting detail is slipped into the account - the reaction of the Blessed Virgin Mary to their reports as to what the angels had told them concerning her new-born Son. And that is that she 'treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.'

These words should resonate with us in relation to other occasion related to us concerning the conception, birth, and childhood of our Lord as told to us by St Luke. The first concerns the annunciation to the Blessed Virgin by the Archangel Gabriel. He greets her, saying 'ave, plena gratia' or 'hail, one full of grace.' And she is troubled by his words and considers them in her mind. Next comes the visit of the shepherds. After that, there is the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple, where Mary and Joseph together marvel at the words spoken by St Simeon when the old man takes the child in his arms and speaks the words we know today as the Nunc Dimittis – where the holy man declares that he may now depart in peace because he has seen the Salvation of the Lord, a light for revelation to the gentiles and the glory of his people Israel.

Finally, there is the Finding in the Temple, when the boy Jesus, having gone up to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover, remains behind when they begin the journey home with their travelling companions, causing them to return to the city to search for him. The Blessed Virgin, as any mother would, asks him why he has caused them such anxiety. And he gives a reply that, from the lips of any other boy might have seemed somewhat out of order, but coming from the Son of God is instead indicates his understanding of who he is and what he was born into this world for: 'How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be about my Father's business?' And the evangelist tells us that his mother kept all these words in her heart.

There are two points I would like to make about these passages. The first is that they record more than just factual detail – they report the internal reaction of the Blessed Virgin to external events. We know how she thought, how she felt about the incidents that St Luke is giving us his account of. This is strongly suggestive of something that has long been thought – which is that the Blessed Virgin Mary herself was the source of the information we have about the details we have of the early life of our Lord.

This in many ways makes abundant good sense. We know from the New Testament that the mother of our Lord was a close companion of the Apostles. And tradition has always told us that she lived for many years after the Ascension. So why would not his disciples, particularly the evangelists have gone to her, looking for the information they needed to fill in some of the gaps they would have had concerning our Lord's life that they did not know from their own direct experience? Indeed, St Luke tells us at the very beginning of his Gospel that he has undertaken to set forth a narrative of the things that had taken place and that he is basing his account on the testimony of those who were from the beginning eyewitnesses and ministers of the word. And there was none better placed to be an eyewitness to what had taken place from the beginning than the mother of our Lord herself.

This is very important as it assures us that the gospels passages concerning the birth of our Lord are very trustworthy indeed. Sceptics, of course, like to cast aspersions; but it should be noted that as time goes on that careful examination of the documentary and archaeological record again and again has bolstered the gospel account of events. Sceptics may like to throw around phrases such as 'blind faith'; but open-minded scholarship shows that they are the ones placing blind faith in their sceptical ideology.

And the other point concerning these passages I would like to raises is the what they have to tell us about the mother of our Lord. We can get so caught up in thinking of her in her role as mother, especially at this time of year, that we can forget that she was also a great saint, a woman of supreme holiness. That is what we mean when we refer to her in the Christmas collect as a 'pure virgin' – the purity that comes from being perfectly aligned with God's will.

And the lives of greats saints are not simply set before us as some form of a historical record or to be wondered at by lesser mortals such as ourselves but to be emulated. They are given to as an example of holy living which we must strive to copy. And what example is set before in these passages I have mentioned? The Blessed Virgin, encountering the great things that God is doing, is troubled and perplexed. But in the face of these challenging events what does she do? Does she simply shrug her shoulders and say that these are things too great for me to try and comprehend and do her best to ignore and forget about them? She does not. She treasures them in her heart. She considers them in her mind and ponders them in her heart. And, we may be sure, she tells others of the wondrous things that God has done.

And this is what I pray all here will do. That, following the example of the Mother of God that they would be challenged by the Gospel, that they would treasure it in their hearts and ponder it daily; and that they would proclaim the good news it contains to all the world. Amen.


Amen.

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