Last Sunday marked the start of Advent, the official beginning of the Christmas season and the busiest time of the year. Suddenly it seems every square on the calendar is full of commitments: the holiday office party, your daughter’s Nutcracker performance, your grandson’s holiday orchestra concert, the annual neighborhood Christmas cookie swap, dinner with your book club, a secret Santa exchange with your friends. Christmas is a season of celebration, and your calendar, if it’s anything like mine, attests to that.
There’s nothing wrong with fully embracing and celebrating the delights of the Christmas season. In fact, the apostle Luke tells us the shepherds who came to visit baby Jesus did exactly that. After hearing about the birth of Jesus from an angel who visited them out in the fields, the shepherds hurried to the manger, where they found Mary and Joseph and the infant son of God, just as the angel had predicted. Overcome with jubilant excitement, the shepherds told everyone what had happened, what the angel had told them, and what they had witnessed with their own eyes. Luke tells us they glorified and praised God for all they had heard and seen.
I like to imagine the shepherd’s celebration that night. I can picture the rowdy, motley crew broadcasting this miraculous, most unexpected news, virtually shouting it from the rooftops as they traipsed in their muddy sandals through town on the way back to the fields and their flocks. I doubt they got a wink of sleep. This was a story they would keep telling and retelling for weeks, months and years to come.
In the midst of the shepherds’ celebratory excitement, it’s easy to overlook Mary in this scene. And yet, she has something important to tell us; not in words, but in her quiet presence. According to all four gospels, Mary did not engage in the conversation and the storytelling, nor did she participate, at least outwardly, in the exuberant praising and celebrating. Rather, Luke tells us, “Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often” – or, as another translation puts it: “Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
Quiet amid all the celebration, Mary listened, observed and noticed, tucking each detail of this astonishing experience into her heart. She was, quite literally, in the presence of Christ, and she was fully present, treasuring this moment, preserving it, and emblazoning it on her heart, mind and soul forever.
Over the next three weeks, as your to-do list grows longer and your calendar squares fill with holiday parties and events, I encourage you to take a cue from Mary and step away from the festivities and the busyness of the season for a bit. Find time to slip into the shadows of quietness and make space to treasure the gift of Immanuel, God with us.
Mary didn’t have the kinds of demands we face in our 21st-century Christmas, to be sure. But she did have a celebratory crew of visitors in the living room of her less-than-ideal temporary quarters. And even then, amid the noise and the festivities, she chose to celebrate the birth of her son and her Savior with quiet contemplation, treasuring the presence of Immanuel. Two thousand years later, it would benefit us to take time from our busy holiday schedules to do the same.