Rev. Molly F. James, PhD

The Holy Name
1 January , 2017
Grace Episcopal Church

Numbers 6:22-27; Philippians 2:5-11; Luke 2:15-21; Psalm 8

May God's Word be spoken.  May God's Word be heard.  May that point us to the living Word, who is Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 “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.”  Mary pondered them in her heart.  I am struck by this idea and image of Mary pondering all that had been told to her about her son.  I am struck by the use of the word “pondering.”  It is a word that emphasizes the depth of her reflection and thought, and also has a bit of a connotation of question or puzzlement.  While at first it may seem odd that Mary is pondering the reality of who her son is, the more I thought about it, the more it seems just right.

Think about it.  Yes, of course Mary knew in her head (and in her heart) that this was no ordinary baby she was having.  She knew he was God’s Son.  And then real life intervened.  She was preoccupied with the stress of a long and arduous journey, made all the more challenging and uncomfortable by the fact that she was nine months pregnant, riding a donkey on unpaved roads.  I have been nine months pregnant, and it is hard to get comfortable on the plushest of sofas, so I cannot even imagine the discomfort of a bumpy donkey ride.  And then, of course, it came time to give birth.  And giving birth is very much a live-in-the moment experience.  Like any profound, painful, life changing experience, one does not really think about much else at that moment, so Mary was likely rather focused on the task at hand, and not really thinking about the cosmic implications of her infant son.

Thankfully, Jesus arrives safely.  They are all warm and cared for.  Mary can rest.  We often condense things in our Christmas celebrations, and all of the visitors - shepherds, angels, wise men - often arrive immediately following the birth.  Thankfully, for Mary and Joseph’s sake, it did not actually happen this way.  News may have traveled quickly on that night when Jesus was born - it probably helped that angels were delivering the message.  But people didn’t, so it was a day or two before the shepherds and over a week before the wise men arrived.  How nice!  Mary and Joseph had time to themselves to just cherish their new arrival.  Another time of inward thinking and reflecting.  Any of us who are parents or grandparents, any of us who have had the privilege of holding a newborn baby know the joy and peace of those moments.  Those moments when you are fully present to the miracle of life.  The miracle that is sleeping in your arms.  The preciousness and vulnerability of someone so tiny and fragile.  I am glad to be reminded that Mary and Joseph had those moments too.

And then it is after these days of being inwardly focused and living in the moment, the guests begin to arrive and Mary’s vision is reopened.  She is reminded that this beautiful infant is more than just her son.  He is the Savior of the World.  This is what she is pondering and wondering about.  Her vision is expanding to hold the possibility of all that Jesus is and all that he will do in his lifetime.  Again, Mary may know this in her head and in her heart, and yet we also wonder if she really knows all of what lies in store for her and for her son.

Mary probably did not know the fullness of what was in store, and so she had to have faith.  Faith in God.  Faith in her Son.  Faith in herself.  Just like any parent, she probably gazed at the tiny bundle in her arms and wondered how it would be that this tiny bundle would someday be a grown man transforming the world.  Now, blessedly, we are not saddled with the burden of single-handedly saving the world.  And yet, for all of us, our lives are full of possibility.  That is so evident to us when we are in the presence of a newborn baby.  The hope and possibility for this little person and for the world are tangible in that moment.  Somehow we just know in our bones that the world is a better place because this new life is in it.  The world is a better place because that little person gives us hope for the future.  A newborn baby is possibility, incarnate.  Who knows what they will become - a brilliant thinker whose ideas creatively solve a global crisis?  An artist or musician who adds beauty to the world?  A committed caregiver whose loving touch makes all the difference?  An athlete who inspires others?  The possibilities are endless.

In the beginning they are endless, but it doesn’t stay that way.  If that child doesn’t get enough to eat.  If no one reads to him or takes him to play in the park.  If no one teaches her the difference between right and wrong.  If no one teaches him to love God and neighbor.  If no one shows her that she is a beautiful, beloved child of God.  If no one ensures that he does his homework and gets a good education.  If those things don’t happen, all those possibilities disappear.

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Each of us has the power to make a difference.  We have the power - individually and collectively as a community - to help the children in our communities live into the wonderful possibilities God has in store for us.  By being present to the children in our families.  By giving of ourselves, our wisdom and our time, here at church, in schools and community programs.  By sharing our gifts with the next generation, we can have a lasting impact on the future of our world.

As the saying goes, “A hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, the sort of house I lived in or the size of my bank account, but they world may be different because I was important in the life of a child.”

Mary’s pondering on this feast of the Holy Name reminds us of the amazing possibilities in a new life.  Today we are reminded that children incarnate hope for us.  The world needs that hope.  We need that hope, and so in this new year, may each of us find ways to make a difference in the life of a child.


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