Humbled Hearts

What are you pondering in your heart?

Psalm 51:1-12 & Luke 2:8-20

Psalm 51:12 Create in me a clean heart…

Children’s Sermon

  • How was your Christmas? What will you remember most?
  • What or who are you thankful for? (Write on white board)
  • Who are the people to whom you need to say thank you?
  • Are there any to whom you need to say I’m sorry?

We also need to say those things to God. In our psalm reading, David is saying sorry to God for the bad things he’s done, and asking God to make things ok. 

And in our other reading, Mary is thinking about all that God has done, and when we notice the good things that are happening, we can say thank you to God for those, too.

Same questions for the congregation that I asked the kids….

Luke 2:19 … Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.

Many of our Bible translations say that Mary was pondering.

Pondering is a funny word.  It sounds like what frogs do, doesn’t it?

Pondering means that she was thinking deeply about all that had happened since that day the Angel Gabriel came and told her that she was going to be the mother of the Son of God.  Mary had a lot to think about.

In Mary’s conversation with the Angel Gabriel, the angel tells Mary about a sign that would confirm for her what the angel has said. The sign is that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant, even though she is beyond child-bearing years and has never before had children.

Mary is already trusting the angel when she says, “May it be as you have said.” (Luke 1:38) But then she goes to visit Elizabeth to see the sign.  Elizabeth is indeed six months along in her miraculous pregnancy.  And Elizabeth says to Mary, “You are blessed because you believed what God said.” (Luke 1:45)

In response, Mary says:

“Oh, how my soul praises the Lord.
47     How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior!
48 For he took notice of his lowly servant girl,
    and from now on all generations will call me blessed.
49 For the Mighty One is holy,
    and he has done great things for me.
50 He shows mercy from generation to generation
    to all who fear him.
51 His mighty arm has done tremendous things!
    He has scattered the proud and haughty ones.
52 He has brought down princes from their thrones
    and exalted the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things
    and sent the rich away with empty hands.
54 He has helped his servant Israel
    and remembered to be merciful.
55 For he made this promise to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and his children forever.”

What was Mary pondering in her heart? 

  • The revolutionary, world-changing news of the Messiah,
  • and all that the prophets had said through the ages about what this would mean for Israel and for the world. 
  • Mary knew that this was the answer to the thousands upon thousands of prayers that had been said throughout the years of waiting and watching.

She rejoices because:

  • God has remembered us.
  • God has remembered the promises to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
  • God fills the empty with good things.
  • God brings down the proud and lifts up the humble.

God is the best example of that – Jesus is God in the flesh. John’s gospel says, The Word became flesh and lived among us.

Philippians 2 says:

Though he was God,[a]
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges[b];
    he took the humble position of a slave[c]
    and was born as a human being.

Mary had a lot to think about.  So do we. God knows what’s in our hearts.

What are you holding in your heart and thinking about deeply?

What are you reflecting on?  What are you pondering?

This week I’ve been thinking about how God speaks to our hearts. On Christmas Eve I said that God speaks to each of us in different ways.  Mary says something that I have found to be true: God brings down the proud and lifts up the humble. Sometimes we’re the proud, and sometimes we’re the humble.

My pondering lately has continually landed on two somewhat humbling verses:

Proverbs 3:5 “lean not on your own understanding,” and Galatians 6:9 “don’t give up.”

And I’ve been pondering something my pastor said to me when I was in seminary. He invited me to come to meet with him and talk about my what I was studying.  He asked me several times whether I had heard anything that pushed me.  I didn’t really understand what he meant, so I said no and didn’t think too much more about it.  My seminary experience was not the sort that brought about any sort of faith challenge or existential crisis, which now looking back is what I think he was asking. 

Any time we are learning and growing, there is the potential that God will show us new ways in which we have been putting our trust in something other than God.  That has happened to me several times, and I imagine will continue to happen, because we humans are often better at being proud than we are at being humble. (Or maybe that’s just me?)

In those profound moments when we meet God, we are humbled by God’s grace, and in realizing that God sees us.  Mary has had a life-changing, world-changing word from God through the Angel Gabriel. 

It was a potentially scandalous situation – an unmarried pregnant 15-year-old. What do we think if that happened now?  People thought even worse back then.  But Mary says, “Let it be as you have said.”

She humbly accepts her new situation, despite the risks, and trusts that God will make things work.  In faith Mary accepts things as they come, trusting in God’s faithfulness and goodness.

About 15 years ago, I was struggling to figure out my career direction. Spent an afternoon at the lake praying and asking God for help. I didn’t get any answers that day, and I was frustrated about that. A few days later, I had a dream in which God was saying, “You’re just marking time here.” So I quit my job the very next day.

It was a scary thing to do, but when God speaks, it’s good to listen and act accordingly. Doing so led to going back to school and finishing my bachelor’s degree and then being able to go to seminary, something I wouldn’t have done if I’d stayed working in a church in which women were not allowed to be pastors.

Jill Duffield says in Advent in Plain Sight, “We learn from Mary to pay attention when God speaks, whether through angels or shepherds. We learn from Mary to treasure up those holy moments of God’s inbreaking. We learn from Mary to ponder in our heart the mysteries of God’s call so that we can return to it when we worry we may have lost our way.”[1]

God speaks to our hearts in different ways.

  • To Mary through an angel, and her cousin Elizabeth, and the shepherds.
  • To her husband Joseph, the angel appeared in a dream.
  • To them both through the gifts the wisemen brought, something we’ll talk more about on the second Sunday of January.

What are those moments when you have been humbled by God’s mercy and grace and goodness?

I was when I heard from Arn Froese about what’s happening with their friend Manuel in Honduras. Manuel drives a taxi, but he was finding that less people were using his service because of the cost, so Arn and Carol suggested that Manuel offer people rides for free and send Arn and Carol the bill.  Manuel loved the idea, and in his letter to them about how well this was going, said, “Thank you for using me as an intermediary to bless more people.”[2]

I have been thinking about this ever since and thanking God for what is happening between the Froeses and Manuel and the people in Manuel’s city.

How cool is it that Arn and Carol are able to help someone to help others! 

I’ve been wondering how we might do more of that?

  • We do this when we help someone who’s going to school to learn how to do something that will help others. 
  • We do this when we give to Goodfellows or the Food Bank.

How else?  Let’s be praying about that.

What are you pondering in your heart? 

Maybe it’s a need to say I’m sorry, or thank you, or to accept a new situation that God has put before you.

Let’s keep watching and waiting and expecting God to be surprising us.

Prayer – God, as we look forward to the coming new year, help us to let go of the things we need to leave behind, recognize the goodness for which we need to be thankful, and trust and hold close the paths that You have set before us.  Thank You for seeing us and being with us, through Your Son, Jesus, Emmanuel, and Your Holy Spirit who lives in our hearts.

[1] Duffield, Jill J.. Advent in Plain Sight (p. 119). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[2] Used with Arn Froese’s permission.

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