Merry Christmas to you and your families, from all of us at Redeemer, and may God bless you in the New Year!
I have a question for you this evening. Do you have a big heart? Can it get bigger? Can we expand our hearts, make them bigger, as big as God’s heart? The answer is “yes”—in faith.
Now, before you go reaching for your pulse, I’m not talking about your physical heart. No, I’m talking about your heart of hearts, the spiritual center of your being. It that mysterious place, unique to you, somewhere between your mind, your conscience, and your desire, where all three intermingle.
Mary is our role model here.
In tonight’s Gospel reading from Luke, we are told how she responded when the shepherds came and found her, with Joseph and the baby, in the animal shed behind the inn. With irrepressible excitement, they told her, and all who would listen, about the angel’s words: “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Mary’s response was muted: she “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
In other words, her heart is getting bigger. This process began 9 months before. Then, the Angel Gabriel had appeared to her and said that her baby would “be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Later during her pregnancy, she visited her cousin, Elizabeth, who was also pregnant with John the Baptist. When Mary arrived, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaimed blessings upon pregnant Mary, and called her the “Mother of my Lord”. In response to Elizabeth’s exclamation, Mary sang a song that came straight out of her heart, a song that has been called the “Magnificat”, after the Latin word used in the song’s first phrase, “My soul magnifies the Lord.”
Then, on the night of Jesus’ birth, she receives the shepherds’ testimony and she is more subdued.
Exhausted, but at peace. Others are excited, for they have just been let in on God’s action in the world, and they are excited to speak about it. But mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.”
Here we see a pattern that comes into play because of the incarnation, a pattern in the story that we are to begin to try and live out in our own lives. The pattern exists to get us to step back from our mundane routine, to relinquish the rat race, and instead contemplate the promises of God. Everyday, then, we are called as Christians to Treasure God’s words, and ponder them in our hearts.”
But this involves our hearts in the most serious spiritual work. For in coming to us, to be, to live among us, Christ calls to each of us to stretch our hearts with God’s promises. Don’t let your heart shrink or dry up, but let it grow, let it blossom in love and grace for other people. If the heart can be said to be God’s home, then we are called to add onto it, expand it, let it grow, so that God can fill it.
There is a quote from Dorothy Day, who was told by someone that it was too late for them, that they couldn’t make room for Christ in their hearts. She responded: “It is no use saying that we are born two thousand yearstoo late to give room to Christ. Nor will those who live at the end of the world have been born to late. Christ is always with us, always asking for room in our hearts.”
This is what we are called to as Christians, that like Mary, Elizabeth, and the Shepherds, we might welcome and even abet the widening of our hearts that God wants for us.
Indeed, in the incarnation, Jesus comes as a human like us, a baby, and slips quietly into the openings and fissures of our hearts, and then grow on us, like children do, and not only that, but grow in us, and grows in the world through us.
This growth does not come easy.
1. First of all, once we have made room in our hearts for others, when we lose someone dear to us, especially family or close friends, we now have an empty space which they once occupied. This space now aches for filling and healing by God. And wasn’t this the plight of both mothers, Elizabeth and Mary? Elizabeth’s child would someday be executed by King Herod, and Mary’s child would be executed by Pontius Pilate.
2. Second, Christ doesn’t come once to our hearts, but he comes again and again, and with him always he brings the down trodden, the sick, the oppressed, the unfortunate, the destitute, the unjustly imprisoned, the cranky, the needy and the hard to deal with. He stands with them at the door of our hearts, and invites us to make room.
In the end, we know that we are not that good or consistent at opening our hearts, and we continually open up only to those with whom we are most comfortable and familiar. But thanks be to God, that ultimately it is God who has be born for us, and comes to be a part of our world, and who has opened his heart to us, and who welcomes us in to hisworld, just exactly as we are—scared, untrusting, feeble-minded, heart-hampered people that we are. God comes to us, is born for us, and welcomes us in to his everlasting kingdom.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your expanding hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.