Craft of Preaching

Dear Working Preacher

Insights, ideas and inspiration related to the coming week's lectionary texts.

Keeping Company with Mary

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"Virgin Mary," Image by Mike Rastiello via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Never underestimate the ponderings of a mother. On this first Sunday of Christmas, once again we find Mary pausing to wonder what all of this means. Here, in this story of Mary finally finding her lost son, she is “thoroughly keeping” all of these things in her heart.

I find it rather fascinating how Luke ascribes these various “thinking” verbs to Mary’s experience in the narrative thus far. Mary is a thoughtful person. Nothing that is happening is getting past her attention. As such, her pondering, her treasuring, her keeping all of the words, considering all of these events, should tell us something, something very important about our own responses and reactions when it comes to major faith events. And yes, Christmas should indeed be one of those major faith events. Yes, Christmas is a celebration that should be the cause of recalibration.

If any of us think that we can pass through or get through another Christmas without some kind of major reevaluation, some kind of significant reorientation, or, at the very least, some sense of questioning and wondering what all of this means, well then, your Christian commitments and core beliefs may be on the line. Mary invites us into that contemplative space, a space that is not so as to obtain answers, but a space to ponder God’s place in and purpose for our lives. Mary summons us to sit and wonder. And Mary asks us to keep her company.

Because Christmas isn’t over yet. We know that, of course, at least on a liturgical level. While the rest of the world is already busy taking down the lights and packing up the ornaments, we find ourselves in this rather counter-cultural after place where Christmas still matters. But all too soon, we allow this reflective and meditative space into which Mary leads us to be infiltrated with the opinions of what others think Christmas means; with the voices and visions of those who do not have the pensive power of Mary. Mary reminds us of an essential act of discipleship -- reflection. Because none of what God is ever up to should be easy to get or at once understood.

Maybe preaching this week invites people into this space for pondering, this place set aside for contemplation. After all, there doesn’t seem to be much admiration for thinking these days. Silence is too often interrupted with the noise of thoughtless words and meaningless chatter. With sentiments and attitudes that have not had due time to steep. With viewpoints and beliefs that have too swiftly jumped to conclusions and that have allowed assumptions to take over. We are quick to respond, quick to answer, quick to interject without adequate thoughtfulness about our interpositions. Without appropriate interpretation of what has been and where things might be going.

What might happen if we gave people the gift of place for their own ponderings? The gift of space where cogitation is encouraged? The gift of time that demands only meditation and musing?

My guess is that people would appreciate this invitation and opportunity, this permission to think through their own thoughts of what all of this might mean; to think all the way back to Advent 1, not to arrive at the church’s answer, your denomination’s answer, a doctrinal, dogmatic, or creedal answer, but to contemplate, to think, to wonder, to ponder so that Christmas lingers a little longer, and especially when the world insists that Christmas is long gone. It seems that thoughtfulness is a Christmas characteristic, and Christmas way of being, that just might make Christmas mean something beyond the conclusion of its celebrations.

And maybe in your preaching preparation this week, Dear Working Preachers, you set aside your own time for some Christmas contemplation. That you don’t allow this all too brief Christmas season to go by yet again without following Mary’s example. We know how tempting it is to move on to the next thing -- worship planning, sermon planning, and, don’t forget, Lent is “just around the corner.” And yet, this constantly looking head is one of the perils of parish ministry -- for we can too easily and too quickly lose the meaning of the moment, God’s moment.

So, before you go on, before you fill your mind with what is to come, steal a couple of extra moments in the temple, watching, expressly when Jesus isn’t looking, isn’t aware that you are there. Sit beside the manger for a few more minutes, maybe holding a piece of hay or two in your fingers, wondering. Keep company with Mary, just a little longer.

Merry Christmas.

Karoline

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