She is honored in shrines in virtually every country in the world. Pictures of her grace countless homes. Statues of her likeness abound in our churches. She is the subject of more paintings than any other person in the history of Western art. Songs and hymns have been composed about her in every age, and tales and legends about her life began springing up mere decades after she passed from this life. She is Mary, the Virgin Mother of God, the model of perfection and the holiest of all people.
Mary occupies such a commanding presence in our imaginations and plays such a pivotal role in salvation history that it can be easy to forget that she was in many ways an ordinary woman living in a specific time and place in history. We tend to overlook the question of what her everyday life was like.
So this Advent we want to look at how Mary can show us what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. In this first article, we want to look at Mary’s habit of pondering God’s work in her midst, and how this habit led her to treasure her son all the more.
Treasure and Ponder. On the night Jesus was born, shepherds hurried to Bethlehem to see the baby Jesus. When they arrived at the manger, they told Mary what the angel had said to them: “I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people” (Luke 2:10). They told her about their vision of angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (2:14).
Mary must have been amazed when she saw their faces, radiant and filled with joy, and as she heard them praising and thanking God. Scripture tells us that rather than letting these holy moments slip by, Mary treasured them deeply and pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:19).
Luke gives us another window into Mary’s heart when he tells how the twelve-year-old Jesus remained behind in the Temple to discuss the Law of Moses with the elders. It’s possible this was the first time Jesus was separated from his parents for any length of time. They spent three anxious days searching for him, and when they finally found him, Mary asked, “Son, why have you done this to us?” (Luke 2:48). Jesus replied by asking, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (2:49).
Undoubtedly, Mary was hurt by Jesus’ seeming indifference. But she didn’t let the sting of his words take root in her. She may not have known exactly what Jesus meant by these words, but she sensed that something important was happening. So rather than becoming angry or defensive, Mary said to herself, “There must be something deeper going on here, and I want to understand it.” Once again, Luke tells us that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (2:51). She continued to ponder and treasure everything surrounding her son.
Spiritual Pondering. In many ways, these stories of the shepherds at the manger and finding Jesus in the Temple present us with a microcosm of Mary’s entire life. They provide snapshots of the way she always lived. She made it a habit to ponder God’s work and to treasure what she saw Jesus say and do—even if she didn’t understand it, even if it caused her pain or confusion at first.
Mary took the time to turn these events over in her mind again and again. She prayed about them and asked God for new insights into what they meant. She understood that God’s plan is unfolding each and every day, and she didn’t want to miss out on recognizing it.
Mathematicians and scientists do the same thing. They can spend years pondering formulas and equations in the hopes of making new discoveries. Businesspeople do the same thing as well. They meet with their managers and ponder how to increase sales, cut costs, or overcome roadblocks. Medical research teams also do the same thing as they search for new breakthroughs.
We all spend time pondering things. We ponder who we will marry, how we should raise our children, where we want to work, or how we will spend our money. We think about the “whats”, the “whys,” and the “hows” of life. We ponder so many things, but maybe we can spend a little more time pondering spiritual things.
What better way to do this during Advent than to ponder the nativity scene? Or the angel Gabriel’s message to Mary? Or the love behind Jesus’ decision to humble himself and become a man like us? In fact, if she were here with us right now, Mary would probably urge us to set aside time each day to ponder all the joyful events surrounding her son’s birth.
Seek First the Kingdom. Prior to the Annunciation, Mary’s plans were pretty much set. She was going to marry Joseph, raise a family, and live a quiet life in Nazareth. But it didn’t take long after the angel appeared to her for Mary to realize that this new plan from God was going to cost her—maybe everything. Rather than panicking, refusing the angel, or growing resentful, Mary trusted the Lord and then set about pondering everything that had to do with the new plan God had revealed to her. The more she pondered, the more she treasured, and the more she treasured, the more she pondered. All this pondering and treasuring led her to the point where she could tell Elizabeth, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
This is similar to what happens when two people fall in love. After a couple of dates, they decide they want to see more of each other. They start talking to each other every day. They ponder the wonderful time they had with each other, and they treasure being with each other. Then, at some point, each of them asks, “Do I want to spend the rest of my life with this person?” This question—which points to radical and costly decisions in the future—tells us that all the time they have spent pondering and treasuring each other has led them to join their lives together in marriage.
Just like that couple in love, the more you ponder the Lord, the more you’ll treasure him, and the more you treasure him, the more you’ll ponder him. The more time you spend dwelling on Jesus and the miracle of his coming among us, the more God will bless you. Again, if Mary were here, she would probably tell us to value her son above every other treasure. She would tell us that the most worthwhile thing we can do every day is to contemplate everything Jesus has done for us. She would tell us, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides” (Matthew 6:33).
Imitate Mary. There is an old saying that states, “Your life is a gift from God. What you do with it is your gift to him.” Even before the Annunciation, Mary had been pondering God and his love, but when the angel appeared, her prayer took on a whole new depth. She became so filled with gratitude that she decided to give even more of her life to God.
How did she do it? At the Annunciation, she surrendered herself to God. When she prayed, “May it be done to me according to your word,” she preferred God’s will over her own (Luke 1:38). When she visited Elizabeth, who had become pregnant in her old age, Mary cared for other people. In her Magnificat, she worshipped God. At the wedding feast in Cana, she interceded for the bride and groom. And as she watched her son die on the cross, she suffered with him over all the sin in the world.
Mary’s trust in God, her love for him, her humble obedience to his plan—all of it was her way of giving herself back to the Lord as a precious gift.
The same holds true for you. Whoever you are, wherever you live, and whatever you have done, your life is a gift from a loving Father. You are unique in the world. God has given you special gifts and blessings that he has given to no one else. Can you now give yourself back to him?
The answer will be different for each of us because we are all different. But one thing remains the same: as we ponder the Lord and his goodness, we’ll discover his gifts and blessings to us. And discovering them, we’ll treasure them more and more. We’ll see how valuable they are, and we’ll become more and more grateful for them. And in our gratitude, we’ll start finding ways to honor and serve God in our everyday lives— just as Mary did. So whatever you decide to do for the Lord this Advent, you can rest assured that Mary is looking down on you from heaven and cheering you on. That’s her job because she is our mother.