Van Ens: Take a moment Christmas Day and ponder Jesus
The miracle of her baby’s birth motivated Mary to think deeply. What traits did Mary show during that first Christmas when she was “…pondering (Jesus’ birth) in her heart?” (Luke 2:19).
Jesus’ birth inspires people to probe, ask questions and delve deeply into this child’s identity.
British biographer Malcolm Muggeridge’s life-long fascination with Jesus prompted him to write the book “A Life of Christ.” After centuries of people pondering this newborn, “Is there, then, anything left to say?” asks Muggeridge. “I … decide that there is — not because of me but because of him (Jesus). The man and his story are inexhaustible and continue to attract the minds and imaginations of the pious and the impious, of believers and unbelievers, alike; mine among them.”
Pondering, which is the ability to muse about heart-felt thoughts, is a lost art. When the decibel level rises in a room, deliberation disappears because noise jangles our minds. Moreover, pondering loses out after life’s pace quickens. Agitated minds lack reflective skills.
Pondering prospers when our minds slow down and are still.
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When Mary had a chance to retreat from noisy baby Jesus and loud shepherds crowding the manger, she concentrated on what this birth meant.
Before Christmas Day’s hub-bub erupts, I wake up at 5 a.m. All is still. My ear hears a quill’s scratching sound on parchment. Poet John Milton sits at his writing table very early on Christmas morning in 1629. Minus disturbances, he concentrates on penning “a birthday gift to Christ,” as he later mentioned to a friend Charles Diodati.
Milton’s father fine-tuned a hobby of composing songs and psalm musical arrangements. Music in the home comforted young Milton. His dad taught John the difference between the right note and the almost right note.
Music bequeathed to the poet Milton a rhythmic sixth sense that produced exquisite metered lines.
Play comforting music when you ponder as John Milton did. He wrote an ode, “On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity.” Before dawn breaks on still Christmas mornings during the past half century, I read this ode and ponder Jesus’ birth.
Mary also benefited from slowing down after giving birth. She cultivated unhurried hours.
Tethered to smart phones, we constantly check messages. Such an informational glut makes for crowded hours that destroy our concentration.
“Ding, ding, ding” and “dong, dong, dong” sing our phones, alerting us that Facebook or a text message has arrived. Our minds are fidget constantly. Our attention span shrinks. Our ability to dig deep into interior thoughts gets muddled.
“Researchers have studied the disruptive, fragmentary and addictive nature of our digitalized world — the demands of its dinging, beeping and flashing devices — and cataloged its dangerous effects on our minds” writes Karen Swallow Prior, an English literature professor.
She observes, “As Nicholas Carr explains in ‘The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,’ ‘The linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts — the faster, the better.’”
Professor Prior realizes how this information overload destroys pondering. “Our brains work one way when trained to read in logical, linear patterns and another way when continually bouncing from tweet to tweet, picture to picture and screen to screen” (Christianity Today magazine, December 2018, “Good Books Make Better People”).
Whether religious or not, we benefit from pondering Jesus who wasn’t full of himself. He served others and exuded compassion that heals our hurts.
On Christmas Day, find a quiet spot. Flee what’s hectic. Focus on Jesus. Give yourself the gift of pondering this baby born in Bethlehem’s manger.
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax-exempt Creative Growth Ministries (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.