The Third Sunday of Advent December 14, 2008

Advent 2008: “The Silent Christmas”

The Silence of Mary: A Lesson in the Meditation of Christmas

Luke 2:15-19

Scripture Readings

1 Samuel 3:1-11
Colossians 3:12-17


55, 58, 63, 72

Why lies He in such mean estate
where oxen now are feeding?
Good Christians, fear; for sinners here
the silent Word is pleading.
Nails, spear shall pierce Him through;
the cross He’ll bear for me, for you.
Hail, hail the Word made flesh,
the babe, the Son of Mary!

[WS 712]

Dear fellow-servant, you who have Christ and, therefore, lack nothing:

Again this week we seek to focus our thoughts around the theme: “The Silent Christmas.” Last week we studied the angel-imposed silence of Zacharias. Today we examine the self-imposed silence of Mary.

The text that will guide us in our study is found in the Gospel account of Luke, selected verses from that grand second chapter:

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.

These are the words of our God and are, therefore, holy and without error of any kind. Confident of this fact, we seek to be guided and instructed by these words and to that end we pray: “Sanctify us through your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.

Fellow recipients of the Gift of the Christ-Child, you’ve probably all seen it on news clips; many of you have no doubt seen it also in person: the churning, chaotic, muddy fury of a flash-flooding river. I’ve seen it more than once and my reaction is pretty much always the same—a mixture of fascination and awe together with a profound sense of relief that I am where I am instead of in that frenzied, tumbling mass of trees, mud, water, and debris.

The last thing that I could ever imagine doing, given those circumstances, is to take a running leap into those deadly waters “just to see what it would be like.” And yet that is exactly what you and I tend to do throughout our lives and during this season in particular. We witness the chaos and danger that is life in 21st century America—marveling at the destructive and spiritually deadly power that routinely carries souls to their destruction—and our incomprehensible reaction is to hold our nose and dive in. It is as though we have come to believe that such things are both necessary and survivable.

Clearly our God does not want us to hide from the world since He Himself instructs us that we are to be in the world, but not of the world (cf. Matthew 5:14-16; John 15:18-19, John 17:14-16). Since we are in the world there will, of necessity, always be something of a “rat race” characteristic to our lives here on this earth. The problem then is two-fold: First, we need to be “in the world,” but that does not mean that we need to seek out the fastest, most dangerous current. Secondly, the very fact that we must spend time in the day-to-day struggles of life should self-evidently teach us that we need to drag ourselves out from that mad milieu from time to time to be refreshed and re-energized. That is what we seek to do during each of our divine worship services and in particular during our Advent services this year.

Solomon, that wise veteran of the floods of life that nearly swept him away, once wrote in Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven: A time to be born, and a time to die…a time to break down, and a time to build up; A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance…A time to gain, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away…A time to keep silence, and a time to speak(Ecclesiastes 3:1ff). Life is not—and cannot be—all laughing and dancing and speaking. Sin ruined all of that. So also we tend to be good at the speaking, but not so good at the “keeping silent.” It is in part for this very reason that you and I are immersing ourselves in God’s Word on this day.

The fact is God’s Word promotes both silence and speech. In the Scriptures we are taught, for example, that if your brother sins against you, you are to keep silent about it as far as the rest of the world is concerned and tell only him. So also young Samuel was told in our Old Testament lesson that the correct response to the voice of his God was that simple: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening(1 Samuel 3:10). The Apostle John, upon seeing the wonders of the Revelation, was told to proclaim only some of what he saw and to hold his silence concerning the rest.

Today, we learn a valuable lesson from the “highly-favored one”—Mary. What a study this Christian woman is in humility and piety. Do you remember her simple response when the angel told her what was about to happen to her? No strutting, no bragging, no choreographed celebration in the end zone. This humble, favored woman replied simply: “Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word(Luke 1:38). Her response, together with what we read about her in our text, give us the sort of super-model with which our God is well-pleased.

There is, in fact, a great balance identified for us in our text. We heard first of the response of the shepherds, who when they heard the announcement of the angels immediately went to see the newborn King. Afterward our text tells us: “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.[v.17] Clearly their response was both good and necessary since our text tells us that “all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.[v.18] This was nothing more than the Great Commission put into action—even before that commission was given! In the case of the shepherds, silence would have been anything but appropriate. It was their time to speak, to shout, to proclaim.

Yet the very next line of our text gives us the balance that is so necessary in our lives: “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.[v.19] Consider for a moment the chaos and turmoil of Mary’s life from the day the angel announced to her that she would be the mother of her Lord. How could she ever come to terms with the fact that she was to first carry, and then gave birth to, and then serve as the caregiver for, the Son of God, the Promised Savior of the World? Surely faithful Simeon was seeing the situation in high definition from the very beginning when he said to Mary: “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against (yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed(Luke 2:34-35). How indeed would Mary ever come to terms with what was happening to and through her?

One this is certain, it was good and right for Mary to ponder these things in her heart, but we are not to assume that in so doing Mary was able thereby to sort things out on her own—far from it! Mary kept these things in her heart so that the Holy Spirit could sort them out for her in due time. Therein lies our greatest lesson today: Mary did not apply her intellect to these things and thereby arrive at some higher consciousness. She rather sought a quiet place where she could hear that “still, small voice” (cf. 2 Kings 19:12) of her God over the din and turmoil that surrounded this magnificent event. Mary sought out a quiet place where she could put Samuel’s words into action: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.

What then are you and I supposed to learn from this? What are you and I supposed to do with this information?

Certainly one of our greatest challenges in life is to learn that we cannot figure everything out if only we can learn to apply ourselves. Such notions are more humanist than Christian. Humanists seek their own power and their own insight. Christians seek God’s power, God’s wisdom, God’s insight. We seek that still, small voice that spoke to Elijah outside of the cave on Sinai. Practically speaking, that means that we need to acknowledge that it isn’t just “quiet time” or introspection that solves our problems, it is God’s power working through God’s Word. That is where He promised to meet us, help us, comfort and sustain us.

That also means that quiet time is not enough, which in turn puts the lie to the rather godless notion that the fishing boat, tree stand, or quiet walk in the park are “as good for the soul” as is time spent in God’s Word—both inside and outside of God’s house. What fills our quiet time is every bit as important as the quiet time itself—arguably more so. Relieving stress periodically is good, but it really does nothing to heal and comfort the soul. Such things come only from God Himself.

We find even more such balance and wisdom in our text and in the verses that follow. In our text we learned that the shepherds “made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child.” Yet that wasn’t the end of the story with them, was it? We ignore the rest of their story to our own peril: “Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them(Luke 2:20). The mission work of the shepherds was followed by praise and worship time and it was then that these events probably became even more personal for them.

Some of you will undoubtedly recognize the movie scene I am about to describe: A snake oil salesman in the Old West was trying to peddle a bottle of his wonder drug to what he thought was an ignorant and unsuspecting Indian. The Indian’s only response was: “You drink it.” The man refused. He had no faith in his product—didn’t even know what exactly was in it—but he assured all who would hear him that it was good for whatever ailed their bodies…including stain removal.

Let it not be so with us and the good news of the Gospel. The birth of the Savior is not only news for others, it is intensely personal. Jesus did not just come to this earth to save others, He came to save me. What a tragedy whenever we do not, like Mary, ponder in our own hearts the significance of God’s love for me, and the personal comfort of forgiveness for all of my sins.

Sharing the good news about Jesus is not even possible unless it is also our own personal possession. It is certainly difficult to share what we do not first possess. How tempting and how tragic to make the Great Commission something coldly professional and impersonal. So also Satan loves it when Dads consider Sunday School, Bible Class, devotions, and worship services as things that are good for the wife and young ’uns, but not really necessary—or even appropriate—for big strapping men’s men.

So on this day we wade from the swirling torrent and seek to make the birth of our Lord Jesus intensely personal. May God the Holy Spirit grant such blessings to every Christian heart, working in each of us, personally, an ever stronger faith and an ever more personal and intimate relationship with our Savior-God. Amen.

—Pastor Michael J. Roehl

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