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A Season for Pondering

When my granddaughter Sarah was about four years old, we called to wish her Merry Christmas. During the call, Grandma asked her what she liked best about Christmas. Sarah thought for a moment, and then she responded: “I think, perhaps, the presents.”

For children, Christmas is a big event. They wait for days – longing for the moment of magic, anticipating the excitement and surprise of opening presents. As adults, we need to celebrate Christmas as more than a day of magic. Christmas is a season of recognizing and encountering God with us; it’s an invitation to enter more deeply into our relationship with God.

It’s all too easy for the preparations of Christmas to get the best of us. The flurry of gifts, cards, meals, hosting, and travel can lead to days of anxious effort that leave us exhausted. It’s tempting to breathe a sigh of relief when Christmas Day is over. Yet, that’s the time when it’s important to remember that Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a season. The season is an opportunity to take a deep breath, reflect on our experiences, and go deeper. It is a chance to cultivate a more profound appreciation of the Christmas mystery, the presence of God with us.

A quote from Luke’s Gospel encourages us to take time to reflect on the mystery of God’s presence revealed in Christmas: “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2: 19) The young mother’s experiences were too marvelous and meaningful to fully absorb as they occurred. To fully appreciate them, she needed to treasure and ponder them – letting the significance of what had occurred grow within her, touch her heart, and shape her life. 

Like Mary, we need time to savor the gift of Christmas in order to grasp the significance of what has occurred, to appreciate the meaning and mystery of Emmanuel – God with us. Treasuring and pondering help us see the deeper significance of our experiences. They let us savor the experience, appreciate what we may have missed in the moment, and more fully grasp the meaning of what has occurred.

Sometimes, God comes to us in dramatic and powerful ways. More often, the divine presence is subtle: a restlessness that stirs within us, a quiet inner urge that moves us, a surprising insight that emerges from some secret place within. In the rush of our busy lives, God’s subtle presence is easy to miss. We need the quiet of pondering to recognize the unobtrusive ways God is inviting us to go deeper and to grasp the presence and potential of those invitations. Entering into Christmas as a season invites us to cultivate a sense of wonder, to be surprised by the unexpected ways God is present in our lives, to develop a sense of awe at the mystery that is unfolding within and around us.

No two Christmases are the same. Each year we celebrate it, we are different – shaped and changed by the journey of life that brings us to the moment. Each year God comes to us in new and surprising ways. We need time to absorb that, to take it in, to let it touch and change us. It takes a season – and season after season – to let these amazing experiences permeate our minds, change our hearts, and shape our lives. It takes a season for the spirit of Christmas to grow within and take hold of us.

For me – and perhaps for all of us – pondering has been an acquired taste, a learned behavior. It has been a practice that required intentional cultivation – with fits and starts – over time. There are times that I resist, neglect, and avoid it. Yet, the presence of God and the opportunity to more fully embrace it is always present. We simply need to open ourselves to recognize and receive it.

Any number of starting points may draw us into reflection: watching the beauty of a sunrise, wrestling with a vexing question, meditating on a scripture quote, writing in a journal, pondering a line from a favorite song or poem, or reflecting back on the day as we prepare for sleep. It is less about how we start than it is about staying with it – creating consistent time and space in our lives to reflect, go deeper, and open our minds and hearts to God with us. 

Treasuring and pondering help us grasp that in some ways Christmas is an “inside job” – a profound change of heart, a way of taking on the mind of Christ. The inside job – that shift of mind and heart that helps us recognize and appreciate the way God is with us – invites us to change the trajectory of our lives. As pondering becomes a regular practice, wonder and awe – those remarkable gifts of the Spirit – deepen into a lifestyle.

As we slow our pace, our eyes and hearts are opened and we awaken to the subtle invitations to surrender to the divine presence, deepen our relationship with God, and serve others in love. Slowly, our anxiety and fear begin to give way to a growing inner peace – the peace of Christ. Slowly, that peace begins to flow outward – pouring our love out on a world in need: bringing healing where there is brokenness, reconciliation where there is conflict and division, and mercy where there is a need for forgiveness.

Like Sarah, as children our view of Christmas focused on “presents.” As we mature, we come to realize that the essence of Christmas is the “presence” of God within and among us. As Christmas expands from an event to a season, the divine presence grows within us and flows outward in love. As that occurs, the season expands into a way of life – a way of living in the divine presence and serving others with love every day, in season and out.

Questions to Ponder

Here are some questions to help you ponder the Christmas mystery of God with us.

  • When have you – like the young mother Mary – had such a powerful experience that you needed time to ponder its meaning and significance?
  • How does the quiet reflection of pondering help you recognize the subtle ways that God is with you in the everyday experiences of your life?
  • How has life’s journey shaped and changed you during the past year? In what ways are you different than you were the last time you celebrated Christmas?
  • In what ways do slowing down and pondering help you cultivate an inner peace, the peace of Christ?