“But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
It was Monday, October 1st. I was in downtown Chicago for a meeting and had a couple hours to kill. I love killing time anywhere, but downtown Chicago is a favorite. I love the city.
This day found me on the southwest corner of Randolph and Michigan, standing right in front of the Chicago Cultural Center. The billboard by the steps was an invitation to a free lunchtime concert; “Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano in G Major, Op. 78.” The sign said the concert was part of the “Debussy Chamber Music Festival.” I stared at the sign for a few minutes trying to figure out what “Op. 78” meant.
And then it hit me.
“Debussy Chamber Music Festival,” I thought, “I love those guys,” and bounded up the steps to get my culture on.
After finding a seat, (there were plenty available), I looked around and realized everyone had their eyes closed. I wondered what that meant. They were either having a spiritual experience or sleeping. Watching the guy across the aisle reminded me of watching my Dad in church. I concluded they were sleeping…which is often, in my book, really close to a spiritual experience. I’m pretty sure church protocol calls for waiting for the service or sermon to start before sleeping, but this IS THE Chicago Cultural Center. Maybe things are different among the culturally elite.
Facebook was immediately alerted as to my location. I believed my presence at the Chicago Cultural Center to be evidence that I was “culturally aware” and warned the cyber world that that due to this increase in my social status, I was about to become a member of the “culturally elite.” Because I knew they would doubt me, I posted a picture of my hand holding a program to prove I was actually there. They weren’t impressed. Neither was the guy sitting in back of me who was, no doubt, wondering why the guy sitting in front of him took 5 pictures of his hand holding a program. He moved his chair back a bit.
My phone began to buzz with Facebook responses. One friend asked if I was being held hostage, another doubted as to whether it was actually my hand, and a third quizzed me for the title to “one, just one song they are playing.” I get no respect. Someone suggested they pool money and give it to me if I’d yell “FreeBird” right before the concert started. That was my idea actually. No one took me up on it.
Sitting there contemplating how this cultural experience was about to change my life I became aware of a conversation two ladies sitting next to me were having. In other words, I eavesdropped. I make no apology for that because we culturally elite people do things like that.
The discussion I overheard was about the upcoming Christmas season. Specifically, about which church they were going to attend during Advent. Both had a churches in mind, but neither had made a final decision. One lady disliked her regular church because they didn’t sing enough Christmas carols. The other wasn’t happy because her church “sang the carols to death.” The nasty way she said it gave me the impression Iron Maiden was leading worship. I don’t think that’s what she meant, though.
Music wasn’t the only thing these ladies were basing their Advent decision on; there was driving distance, decorations, and length of sermon. One was offended that her pastor had grown "hideous facial hair." I put my hand over my mouth so as to cover my mustache and goatee, closed my eyes, and pretended to have a spiritual experience.
The other responded, “Well, at least yours doesn’t drone on for 20 minutes or more.” I now had nowhere to hide. I began to fear my congregation would hear of the minister who drones for 20 minutes and opt for that guy over their own pastor who’s been known to drone past 30.
Finally, the concert began. It was wonderful. These were professional musicians playing timeless melodies. What else could it be, but beautiful? I could almost feel my blood pressure drop as they played. It was amazing.
On the way home my blood pressure returned to its normal level as I thought about the ladies and their conversation. I thought about how we, them, you, me, perhaps all of us sometimes lose sight of what’s most important.
We might learn something from Mary here.
This young women had just been through the ordeal of her lifetime, and…it was just beginning. A virgin with child, her life had been at risk, the unborn child’s life had been at risk, the man she loved had doubted her and then come back, she had seen an angel, not just any angel…Gabriel, the Gabriel. The angel brought a message, she, her, Mary…was “highly favored” by God. All of this greatly troubled her, but her fears were somewhat alleviated when Gabriel, THE Gabriel, said, “Do not be afraid.” That helps.
She learned she wasn’t carrying just any child. She was carrying THE child. The Holy Spirit had moved in her. Somehow she trusted. Her journey continued. She went to Elizabeth’s home where Elizabeth’s baby leaped at her presence…because of who she was carrying. She sang. She prayed. She believed. She kept going.
And now, here in a cave called a stable, she sits staring into the eyes of the reason for it all. Shepherds have come. Joseph has proved faithful. God has provided. All is well. Or is it? And so she ponders.
I’ve often wondered exactly what it was she pondered. It had been a busy 9 months. Moments, memories, thoughts, and panic must have flooded her intermittently. I bet she cried. I bet they laughed. No one would believe her Christmas letter…or would they? Would we?
God became a man to rescue men. Help has arrived. It’s not what we expected…a baby, I mean. But he’s here. He’s more powerful than we can imagine. He’s more loving than our greatest love. He sees all, knows all, and in spite of all that…loves all. And he never quits. He pursues. He prays. He intercedes. He heals. He touches. He speaks. He rescues. He redeems. He calls. He satisfies. He cleanses. He purifies polluted people like us, and then uses them to change the world. How cool is that? We get to be part of God’s plan.
I’m glad I chose the church I chose this Advent. Iron Maiden’s not leading worship. The carols are just right. The decorations are beautiful. Most importantly, Jesus is treasured up in the hearts of men and women and they are pondering all that it means. Who knows what will happen next?