As I was unpacking our holiday decorations, I was reminded that there is a part of the Christmas story that always surprises me.
While the three Wise Men were exiting the scene, the text tells us that the heroine of the story, Mary, “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Whether you think the Christmas story is a fairy tale or the accurate account of Jesus’ birth, this statement should make you stop and think. What did Mary treasure up?
And why does it matter?
The sanitized and ubiquitous manger scenes found on holiday cards conceal the escalating barrage of problems confronting Mary. She was a young girl, separated from her family, and fleeing the scandal of an unwed pregnancy in a conservative, patriarchal society. She was a virtual refugee, giving birth in a smelly stable with only a carpenter for a midwife.
Soon she would be an asylum seeker in a hostile foreign country (which had historically enslaved her people) because the reigning monarch had decreed that he would execute a sea of toddlers to make sure he put Mary’s child to death.
The odds were against her.
And the Wise Men did not seem wise enough to bring practical gifts: diapers, wipes, or food. Gold, incense, and myrrh were probably not what she needed most in her makeshift, animal-themed, nursery.
She was a postpartum, teen migrant with all the King’s men on her trail. Yet, the story suggests that somehow what she chose to treasure up and ponder in her heart were not these difficult and worst-case-scenario circumstances.
Instead, she treasured up the declarations about the identity of her child: from the Wise Men, the shepherds, Joseph’s encounter with the angel, and her own conversation with God’s emissary. She treasured up the signs of hope and the promises of good – these are the things she pondered.
Now that is surprising!
How often are we quick to collect into our own hearts the laundry list of things not going well: the truthful excuses and explanations for our inaction; the injustices and abuse we have suffered; the relational slights or hurtful words that fill our minds; and the mistakes and failures that haunt us?
Like Mary, I think we get to decide what we will treasure up and ponder. There is no shortage of painful circumstances to which we can turn, but I have far fewer than young Mary had. It is up to me to elect the hopeful, good, and encouraging things.
This is not a call to ignore difficulties.
Nor is this the nativity’s version of positive thinking. Mary did not pretend that hard circumstances did not exist. She met those challenges head on throughout her life, but she did not elevate those difficulties and obstacles to the status of treasures. We can deal with problems without treasuring them up.
I think it matters what we choose to treasure up and ponder in our hearts: treasuring problems leads to anxiety, treasuring hope yields joy.