Heartfelt Treasure

“But Mary treasured all these words, and pondered them in her heart…” What is it that you treasure, that you keep within your heart?

Each year when we read this lesson, it seems that a different detail or phrase grabs my attention. This year, it’s this moment: Mary’s quiet consideration of everything the shepherds have just told her, the vast heavenly celebration of what the angel Gabriel announced to her nine months prior.

To be honest, I’ve always been a little leery of this part of the story. To me, it is a hint too precious, a misty saccharin memory that bears little resemblance to the truth of the moment. I’m more inclined to think it would have been more accurate to say that Mary “mulled this over, terrified of what it meant for her little baby.” But that’s not what it says. It says that she treasured these words and pondered them in her heart.

Actually, that’s not what it says, either. All it says is that Mary did something to these words that she heard. The Greek verb we translate into this melodious, poetic phrase only occurs once in the entirety of scripture, which makes it difficult to translate well. In other words, there is no other context for this one word anywhere else. The closest we could do with some kind of word study would be something along the lines of “guarded through and through”. So for my money, “treasure” and “heart” get as close to the depth of this as anything can.

So what is it that you treasure, that you keep within your heart?

The baby that Mary cradles in her arms, the Christ child, will one day grow up to echo these words once used to describe his mother, reminding those who dare to follow him that where our treasure is, there our heart will be also. In other words, where we put value is where we have passion. So what do you value? Where is your passion?

This year, Americans are expected to give more than 300 billion dollars away to charitable causes. That’s a lot of money, and says quite a bit about what we value and where our passion lies. Americans are also expected to spend almost 500 billion dollars on Christmas, or almost one and a half times our charitable giving.

When we break down giving by percentage, the numbers become even more striking. American households with an income of $50,000 give an average of 4% to charity. The more income, the lower that percentage. In fact, it doesn’t surpass that 4% until income reaches $10 million, at which point it’s just shy of 6%.

Look: I know you didn’t come here on a rainy Christmas Eve for a math lesson. And I know that there is far more to what we value than how we choose to spend. And yet, as Jesus reminds us, wherever we put our treasure, our heart is sure to follow.

So what is it that you treasure? What is the course you are charting for your heart?

If you’re not used to worshiping with us at Oglethorpe Presbyterian, then let me say this: we are a community of people who take pride in the hearts that God has planted within us, and how they send us out into the world to care not only for each other, but also those whom God calls us to love. That said, we do not for a moment think we have it all figured out. We are wary of self-righteousness. We embrace the growth that the life of faith can bring. We seek out new experiences that will most certainly confront our assumptions. After all, most of those who welcomed the Christ child were probably pretty sure they had it all figured out; then God interrupted their lives with fantastic promises of a newborn king born in the backwater of Bethlehem.

Friends: my prayer tonight for all of us is that the coming year would be one that causes us to consider what it is that we guard through and through, how it is we demonstrate what we treasure, who and where it is our heart finds rest.

And even more, my prayer is that this careful considering will change us; that it will move us to act, to live out the passions we hold close. Maybe it means setting aside time each week to do just what we’re doing here tonight, worshiping God and allowing for the stirring of our hearts. Perhaps it’s spending some time doing math, figuring out where it is we spend our treasures. Or maybe it’s as simple as promising to do one thing this year, having one experience that could take us beyond our places of comfort with the chance that we might just come face to face with God in Christ.

The moment we remember this evening is one that shook the world to its core. It split the sky open with angelic celebrations. It sent the shepherds to their joyful racing. It plunged a King into a jealous, murderous rage. And it took root in the heart of a young mother. What will it do to you tonight?