Tonight, if you’re like me, you will go home and begin the long-awaited event that is the opening of presents. Opening presents, for me, has always been exciting. There is a box or bag that has my name on it, and whatever is inside is something specifically for me. To add to the excitement that present is wrapped in paper that I get to rip off, crumple in a ball, and, usually, throw at someone who is nearby. What could be better?
All of you sitting here likely have some sort of Christmas tradition. Maybe you open gifts on Christmas Eve, maybe you do it on Christmas Day. Maybe, there are no gifts given as you instead put money towards something else, like a trip or charity.
Regardless of your Christmas habits or traditions, I think we can all agree that if or when you receive a gift, that gift will fall into one of three categories. And I brought a few gifts today to help illustrate my point. One of the gifts you might receive is something you need but don’t necessarily want. Socks, are a good example of this. Then there are times when you receive a gift that you don’t need, nor do you want; it is useless to you. Say, like a video game for a game system you don’t even own, thanks Mom!
But then there is that one gift, which is something you not only want, but you’ve dreamed about it; its been on your Amazon wish-list. It’s that present that causes the giver to take his or her phone out just to record your reaction – it is that kind of present. It could be something big and fancy, something sentimental, or something that is the latest and greatest. Tonight, let’s say that special present was something sentimental. Imagine it was a photo album.
And this photo album had pictures in it of you. Pictures taken at every milestone and every life changing event that happened to you; it’s a photo album of your life. Think of all the memories those pictures would call to mind. Memories of your family and the car trips to the grandparents. Memories of your childhood friends and all the games you use to play. The moment you graduated from high school or college. The moment you met your spouse. The moment you fell in love. If you received an album like this, would you not treasure it? Would you not keep it? And yet, this is an album of our life and as we page through it what do we find? Friends who have hurt us. Family members who are sick or dead. Spouses who are no longer our spouses. A life that maybe isn’t what we wanted or expected. As we page through life’s album we find a life tainted.
The things in our life, the things we treasure, have all been tainted by sin that we cannot ignore or remove. A sad dismal reminder that nothing in this world will last, it will all pass away, including us. Sin kind of sucks the joy out of life doesn’t it? It makes you feel like all that time decorating and shopping this Christmas season for the perfect presents is, well, meaningless.
Now some of you sitting here might be thinking to yourself, “Pastor this sermon is turning into a big downer. I mean come on, it’s Christmas, can’t you be a little more upbeat?” I can, and I will, but I want to make this as clear as I can to all of you, including myself. We spend all this time focused on our lives, and rightfully so, they are our lives, but tonight think about taking some time personally, on your own, away from the hustle and bustle of the night, to do what Mary did in our lesson.
Mary like us during Christmas was surrounded by excitement. Shepherds, random strangers, had come visiting her and her newborn child. They had heard from angels that Christ the Lord – God himself! – had been born in Bethlehem. They found that baby, the Savior, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. They went out and they spread that good news all around, but what did Mary do? “Mary treasured all these things…”
Tonight, in the stillness of this night, God asks us to do as Mary did and to treasure something that has not been wrapped. Something none of us has ever seen in the flesh, yet, in many of our homes, it sits on a shelf, especially this time of year. That thing which he asks us to treasure is that which sits here on the altar before us; the baby Jesus.
It might seem strange to treasure some baby born 2000 some years ago. Yet, what do we know about that little baby Jesus? He was conceived by the Holy Ghost. He was born of the Virgin Mary. This child is unlike any other, sent by God himself to perform a task that no human could ever do. This child was born to die. To die for the sins of all people. To be the Savior of the world, to be your Savior. What a gift! A gift that you and I can treasure every single day.
Jesus is a gift that cannot be stolen, he doesn’t have bad memories attached to him. Any memory of Jesus fills us with joy; this is our Savior! Memories of our friends remind us, sure of good times, but also of mistakes and betrayals. Memories of our Savior remind us of fulfilled promises, forgiveness of sins, even as we have betrayed and sinned against him. Memories of family bring to mind sickness and death, but memories of Jesus flood our minds with images of healing and life, eternal life. Life that is ours because of our Savior’s victory on the cross. Memories of spouses and others remind us that human love doesn’t always last. But our Savior’s love is never ending. In love, he came to this earth to suffer in our place, and we as his children treasure that.
We treasure our Savior. We keep his Word close to us and we willingly, out of thanks, obey his commands. We live for him who lived for us. And, as we treasure the birth of our Savior, we do one other thing; we take time to ponder.
Mary we read “Treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Mary had an angel tell her nine months before that she would give birth to a child, who would be called the “Son of God.” Now, shepherds were before her looking to see her child. They spoke of angels appearing and a message of a “Savior being born; who is Christ the Lord!” This child would be lying in a manger.
Mary pondered these things, that is she pondered the words of the strangers, her own experiences with the angel Gabriel, the story of her relative Elizabeth, John’s miraculous birth, and her husband Joseph’s dream. All told these things gave Mary a rather complete story of salvation in her son, the Savior of the world. She as the mother of this Savior had much to ponder.
We too have much to ponder as we keep our Savior’s birth close to our hearts. I mean, how many kings or presidents do you know who would step down and set aside their power to live and work among normal everyday people like us? How many people do you know who would abandon their homes to serve others? Yet, that is what Jesus did. He set aside his crown of glory in heaven, so he could be tempted in every way you and I are, and yet he never sinned. He left his heavenly home so that he could die that death which paid for every sin. Finally, how many fathers do you know who would give up their only son for you? That is what God did. He gave up his son. Jesus, the Son of God, our Savior, was sent in love. Do we not like Mary have much to ponder in the stillness of this night?
We have a Savior whose birth, life, and death, fulfilled prophecy after prophecy. “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” That is the Savior of the world. A Savior whose birth believers in the Old Testament longed for, a Savior whose birth today we celebrate and now look forward to his return. That is your Savior! Ponder tonight what your faith in him means and how it effects every moment of your life.
Ponder how his birth fulfilled those prophecies of old. Ponder how his life was an example for us of what forgiveness and love truly looks like. Ponder how his death paid for every single sin that you’ve committed and declared you not guilty of an eternity in hell. Ponder how the grave did not hold Jesus, and how you no longer need to fear death but look forward to life everlasting. Ponder every day what the Savior, this little baby boy, means to you and treasure him until you and all of us see him with our own eyes in heaven. This is your gift from God this Christmas, a gift that we in faith can truly treasure.
So, tonight in the stillness of the night, take time. Whether it be after this service as you sit in your car alone with your thoughts, or, whether it be later tonight, as you sit in the glow of your Christmas tree lights, take time to treasure, as Mary did, the Word made flesh. Take time to treasure your Savior. And then ponder in your mind what this means for your life, today, tomorrow, and into eternity. Ponder and rejoice your Savior is born!