Scripture: Luke 2:8-20
Preacher: Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Location: First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, FL
Date: December 24, 2019, Christmas Eve, Year A
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
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.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
The older I become, the more I realize that Christmas is like an oak-barrel-aged fine wine or bourbon: The longer they sit in the casks, the finer they become. They become smoother and one’s maturing palate can distinguish flavors he or she could not when they were younger. So it is with Christmas; Christmas gets better and mellows with age! What reminded me of this fact was spending time among our ornaments and Christmas decorations this year. God used those ornaments and decorations as angelic massagers reminding me of the treasures of Christmases past and pondering how over the years those treasures have evolved in their meaning and have shaped me in ways I could never imagine.
One of the things about putting up a Christmas tree is that every year, the ornaments are carefully unwrapped from their tissue paper and fawned over before they are put on the tree. There are the tatted snowflakes Ms. Nell Lewis made us back in 1988 and every year since I throw them like Ninja stars to see where they will land on the branches. There’s a well-worn paper plate Christmas angel my youngest daughter Kate made when she was in kindergarten that finds its special home on top of the tree each year. Kelly has her favorite which is a little crystal in the form of a Hershey’s Kiss given by her preschool class when she taught at Decatur Presbyterian Church’s preschool in 1987. My favorites are not ornaments per se but are the giant hand-knitted stockings my mother made for each of our girls when they were born. For years I chided my mom for making such huge stockings Santa had to fill up each year and each year my oldest daughter would remind her little sister, “Nana made me the bigger stocking!”
The whole process of decorating is a time of reflecting over the years to the time when the ornament was made or the Creche’ made out of olive wood from Jerusalem was given to us from the grandparents. What many people would call trinkets or tchotchkes are what your family calls treasures. We cannot help but hold one of these treasures and think back over and through the years on the memories of the person who made or gave us the ornament years ago; we look backward and ponder upon how our lives have gone with all the twists and turns of relationships, health issues, job changes, or physical moves and how these changes – for what we perceive as good or bad – have shaped us. So for me, I cannot help but hold those little priceless ornaments my daughters made in Sunday school decades ago and not reflect upon all that has happened to make them the women they are today.
Beloved, this is what is happening in our Story tonight. First, an angel appears to Mary in Luke 1 telling her she will have a baby who will reign on the throne of King David (Luke 1.31-33). Now, a group of ragamuffin shepherds come from nowhere seeking the Holy Family out so they can peer at the face of this baby in the manger who is promised to be Messiah and Lord. And like collecting ornaments, treasures from so many sources reminding her of who and what this baby is, Mary treasures and ponders these things in her heart. She hears the shepherds’ Story of angels proclaiming the good news of her baby’s birth. She sees the faces of strangers coming to peer into the stable who have heard these stories and have come to see for themselves what it was all about. Mary’s understanding of who Jesus was grew over time and years. She knew God’s hand was upon him, she watched him grow up and later saw him teach others and do amazing things showing love to her Jewish neighbors and to the most vulnerable people of the day. And she pondered.
The writer Luke uses two different words in his gospel for the notion of pondering. The first is in Luke 1.29 when the angel tells Mary that she will bear a son. We read how she pondered over those words. In this instance, Luke uses the word for ponder which means a person has an internal dialogue about something. But Luke intentionally changes the Greek word for ponder in our Story tonight; the word he uses for Mary’s pondering is more than a mental dialogue about what the shepherds reported; rather, the word Luke uses this time to describe her pondering means to get down and really wrestle with something. It’s a much more active form of pondering than the word he used in chapter one. Whereas Mary had an internal debate about what the angel promised her in chapter one, now Mary is engaged in a mental battle to understand what these shepherds and others are saying to her. Her understanding of God’s intentions with this little baby is growing, adapting, and evolving. The more she treasures the ongoing experiences of God’s revelation to her from a variety of sources, whether from angels, shepherds or the strangers who come, the more intense Mary’s pondering becomes. The more God reveals to her, the more intense her wrestling with what God is trying to say evolves and grows.
Beloved, tonight is the world’s spiritual reset and reboot button to treasure and ponder over all God is doing through this baby boy Jesus in your life and in the life of this church. Like old ornaments on a tree whose meaning and power evolve and grow over the course of years of wrapping and unwrapping them, so too does our understanding of who Jesus is in each of our own lives. The young people who sang for us at 5:00 o’clock will ponder upon Jesus and wrestle with Christmas totally different from our college students who are back home on Christmas break right now, or, even from those older members whose lives have been seasoned with life’s cumulative joys, sorrows, let downs, and celebrations! Each of us treasures Jesus from where we are right now at this moment in time based on how we have treasured him or not in our past.
What do you treasure about Christmas? The decorations, the food, the parties, and the gifts, or, do you travel back in your mind to those earlier days before when you held a more innocent, simple understanding of what took place this night centuries ago? Has the weariness of life turned your ecstatic gasps of Christmas’ holy wonder into tired sighs of unholy indifference, or is the coo of the baby calling you back to the manger’s side?
The Lord God is calling us to ponder the real meaning of Christmas this night. God is calling us to really wrestle and grapple with it. God promises you and me that if we will but slow ourselves down and carefully unwrap the gift we are being given, we will both remember back and presently wrestle with the miracle of God’s power in our life this day born in that cold manger centuries ago. It’s a power and life God wants to be born in you this very night. Shall we actively ponder it along with Mary? Will you and I receive the gift? Amen.
Patrick H. Wrisley, D.Min.
Senior Pastor & Teaching Elder
First Presbyterian Church
401 SE 15th Avenue
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301
© 2019 Patrick H. Wrisley. Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.
 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 Luke 1:29 uses dialogizomai whereas Luke 2:19 uses the Greek word, symballo.