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The First Congregational Church, Columbus Ohio
Christmas Eve, December 24, 2005, 11:00 p.m.
A sermon delivered by The Rev. Timothy Ahrens

Dedicated to all the babies born and baptized at First Church in 2005 and always to the glory of God!
Luke 2:1-20

After traveling, wondering, birthing, and welcoming strangers, the Gospel of St. Luke tells us that Mary "pondered all these things in her heart." In other words, "Mary kept these things to herself, holding them dear deep within herself" (Eugene Peterson, The Message, Luke 2:19, p. 1866). Juxtaposed to Mary's pondering, Luke tells us that after the angelic heralds call the sheep herders to the barn in Bethlehem where they behold the newborn king, the shepherds return to their fields and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had seen and heard.

Pondering and partying - two different responses to the birth of our Savior. For the shepherds the extraverted expressions of joy and delight, produce a party and praise atmosphere which carries them to their flocks and surrounds them on the hillside. For Mary, the introverted expression of motherhood begins to engulf her very being and her spirit. Tonight, let our praise come from the heart of Mary which ponders before we turn to the party ahead.

"Ponder" comes from the Latin, ponderare, which means to weigh. To ponder is to "weigh mentally, to meditate, to contemplate, to consider carefully." I believe we too often act without all the facts. We leave something. We go to something else without considering all the available information. We make diagnoses without enough information or we come to conclusions without having heard all sides in on the questions at hand.

In our society, in these times, pondering is too often seen as weakness and an inability to act. Rather, pondering can be the better part of valor. What would have happened on the border of Iraq in the Spring of 2003 if we, as a nation of action-oriented warrior-types, had pondered rather than pounced on the Iraqis? While I've heard that the cost of keeping our troops in forward position would have been too great, I contend that the cost of striking has been costlier.

In your life, what are you pondering tonight? What is weighing on your mind and heart? Are you missing someone or something in your life? Are you delighted by the arrival of someone or something in your life? In the balance of things, what feelings are you pondering in your heart this Christmas Eve? De you feel joy tonight? Do you feel a sense of gratitude and thanksgiving tonight? Do you feel sad and lonely? A ponderous heart leads us to deliberate ruminations. This is often a slow, less orderly process, but more often this is a fruitful path in difficult times.

So what was Mary pondering in her heart that first Christmas Eve? Was she delighted that her baby, born in a barn, was healthy and whole? She must have been so delighted! Was she wondering what the life of "Immanuel," "God with us" would be like? Inevitably. Was she pondering the possibilities and the prospects which lay before this "king of kings" with tiny little hands and feet? Who knows?

We do know is that there is a mystery which pervades this story and this night. We do know that the one whom she pondered grew up to save the world from aimlessness and sin. While this mystery connects with the mystery at the heart of every birth, this particular mystery draws our pondering hearts together tonight. This divine mystery is about a divine love so deep that it is enters this world through birth, in human form. This mystery is so broad that it enters our world - and for all humanity - is willing to sacrifice everything for each one of us and for our salvation.

We will leave here tonight and return to our homes. I pray that in your pondering heart you take home and share God's love in your family and in your home. I pray that in this season of new birth, you learn to love your family. Look into the eyes of your parents, your siblings, your children, your in-laws (and yes, even our out-laws) and see the love of God in their shining eyes. Take time to smile and to talk with each other. Be tender in your home. Hold onto each other and ponder, as Mary did, the beauty and the possibility of each one of your family members, for love starts at home.

As you move from pondering to partying, remember that your home and your family is the first field of love, devotion and service. As you hold the newborn Christ to your heart tonight, know that he is longing to enter in. He is seeking to save you from aimlessness and sin. He will not close his eyes and sleep this night until he rests, assured that you and your pondering heart, have found rest in him. Thanks be to God for the newborn Savior. Amen.