Sermon: “Pondering and Praising”

“Pondering and Praising”
Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron
Park Avenue Congregational Church, UCC
December 24, 10pm, 2017

Luke 2:15-20
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.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

What entirely different reactions to the birth of the Christ child – quiet, reverent pondering; and loud, glorious praising! This night, and this worship service, call us to both ponder and praise.

The news of a savior coming to all of us – the hope that we will be healed, the promise that the world will find peace – all this fills our hearts with joy to overflowing, and we join the humble shepherds in their raucous, buoyant praise!

Yet Mary is not singing or shouting; she is pondering what all this will mean – how her life will be forever altered by welcoming this child into her heart. Mary could not have known the specifics of the road that lay ahead, but like any new parent she must have felt the ambivalence of that moment: both the wonder of a new life and the vertigo of knowing that her child will grow beyond her protection, taking on a life of his own.

If we are honest, that’s what this Christmas Eve really is – a cause for celebration, yes, but also an invitation to welcome the holy child into our hearts – and to allow that welcome to unfold and expand in ways we could never predict.

Welcoming the Holy – saying yes to God – can change our lives in radical ways. I think of the French woman I met in Mother Theresa’s convent in Calcutta, India, who spent her days caring for those with profound disabilities and mental illness who had been cast into the street. “How did you find your way here?” I asked her. “Il faut demander là-haut,” she replied, pointing skyward with an impish smile on her face. “You’ll have to ask upstairs.”

But saying yes to the Holy can be radical in another way. Radical is from the Latin radix meaning “root” – that which goes deep.

Writer Catherine Wiecher Brunell says of Mary’s welcoming the Christ child into her life: “The shape of [Mary’s] life remained mostly the same: Like any [parent], she was still needed by the infant in the middle of the night, chased the toddler with the hopes of a nap soon to come,” struggled with when to let him learn from his challenges or to branch out on his own. Yet “her life was deepened – [a]n ordinary life was made sacred by way of [God’s] invitation that she affirmed.”

When Mary said “yes,” she was weaving God into the already existing fabric of her life. It is like that with our lives, too – the sacred woven into and through the ordinary. There may be no big change on the surface, perhaps, but our lives take on the added depth and dimension that comes with seeing each moment, each task, as an entry point for the divine.

Can there be holiness in wiping your son’s nose for the thousandth time or in wrestling through your daughter’s algebra homework yet again? Can the hard road of caring for your ailing parent be sacred? Is there room for the divine in your 9-to-5, in your commute, in your chores, at the dinner table, in your hobbies?

“When we say “yes,” God is most often inviting us to…see our ordinary roles as sacred,” writes Weicher Brunell. “Like Mary, can we accept the deepening of the lives that we have already been given? Can we say “yes” and let our lives be sacred?”

In both the ringing voices and the awe-filled silence of this night, we hear God calling us yet again into something deeper. We hear God’s invitation to the shepherds, to Mary, to Joseph, to us: welcome me into this. Let me into your life and let even your ordinary places become deeper, richer, fuller.

Jesus, after all, is born into the most ordinary of circumstances. A carpenter and a young peasant woman lay him in a feeding trough in the middle of a barn filled with the commonest of animals, with the most unprepossessing of farmhands as witnesses. Yet he changes the world.

This night, and every night, let us welcome him into our own ordinariness, pondering and praising as we watch everything change – radically.