H is for Heart
Near the end of Luke’s telling of the nativity story, there is a verse that is at once so beautiful and so subtle that it leaves the reader feeling as though time has suddenly stopped. It comes after a flurry of action: the holy child is born, the heavenly angel appears to shepherds in the deep of night, and the awestruck shepherds rush to Bethlehem to see the newborn king for themselves.
Luke’s narrative is short on detail, but we can gather from the context not only that the shepherds couldn’t stop talking about what happened out in the fields, but that the sounds of a baby coming from the stable may have drawn some curious neighbors to the spot: “all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” Presumably Luke is not just talking about the animals who were standing around ruminating on why there was a child in the trough where their dinner was supposed to be.
At this very moment, the action stops on a dime. (Or, rather, on a denarius.) Luke abruptly shifts our attention to Mary, who seems to be the one person who isn’t all a-twitter: “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” In contrast to the breathless and boisterous shepherds, Mary is meditating. As her womb carried the child of God, her heart now keeps the eternal word. Addressing Mary, the poet John Donne once marveled at the “Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.” Likewise, we may wonder how one human heart can ponder the grandeur of the divine word.
It is hard enough to imagine heaven coming to earth, much less to imagine the light of God taking up residence in the dark corners of our frail hearts. But this is one of the miracles of Christmas, and it isn’t for Mary alone. Unto us a child is born. A child of grace, a child of truth, a child of light. To us. Not as we may someday be, if we are good enough, but as we are right now. Now that is something to ponder – and treasure.
(The background photo is by Jean-Marc Linder, from a church in Kilkenny, a close-up of Mary's hands.)