Today in church I saw the title of the sermon as Chris and I were sitting down. It was, "The Gospel of Christmas: Always Down and Out". There are so many connotations of the words "down" and "out". I was curious to find out the meaning behind them in the message, which is a good thing I suppose, because that is what a cryptic title is supposed to do. So here is a summary of the message, with some of my own notes added.
The passage of Scripture was from Luke 2:16-20:
When the angels went away from them into heaven,
the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem
and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us."
And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph,
and the baby lying in a manger.
And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning the child.
And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.
And the shepherds returned,
glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen,
as it had been told them.
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised,
he was called Jesus,
the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Plenty of incredible things happened to Mary during her lifetime. She was visited by an angel who told her she would become pregnant without a man, and what's more, the child she would bear would be the savior of the world, God's own son. That is amazing enough! After hearing this, Mary goes to spend some time with her cousin Elizabeth, after hearing of Elizabeth's own miraculous pregnancy in old age; Mary may even have been present at John the Baptist's birth, hearing Zechariah's prophecy about Jesus' coming "to give light to those who sit in darkness". Stars, angels, ancient prophecies, royalty, priests, and common people are caught up in the wonder of this baby's coming, as described throughout Scripture. Yet the one whose birth was so long expected and hoped for is born in a dirty cave, to poor parents, with lowly shepherds as his first audience. What a strange way for a king to arrive.
"What do these things mean?"
This surely must have been the question running through Mary's mind. We are told that Mary "treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart". Throughout her life, the story of what her son, the Son of God, meant for her, meant for the world, was stored deeply in her heart. That knowledge went down into her soul, changing her outlook on life.
The birth of Jesus changed the shepherds, too. After they met him lying in the manger, the shepherds went back to their work in the fields not quietly, but "glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen". This signifies that the Good News of Christ's coming is spread out into the whole earth, and out towards others. What did Jesus come to do, that it is so important to spread the news? In Zechariah's words, Christ came "to guide our feet into the way of peace".
Both of these things, Mary pondering God's plans down in her heart and the shepherds praising God out loud for all to hear, belong in the life of someone who calls themselves a follower of Christ. So here are some questions that the sermon ended with:
What does the Gospel mean for us personally, and for us as a society?
What do we treasure up in our hearts?
Do we ponder the things of God?