155. Praising and Pondering (Luke 2:15-21)

“God made himself small so that we could understand him, welcome him, and love him.” – Pope Benedict XVI

Luke 2:15-21: Now when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. When they saw the child they repeated what they had been told about him, and everyone who heard it was astonished at what the shepherds had to say. As for Mary, she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds went back glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; it was exactly as they had been told. When the eighth day came and the child was to be circumcised, they gave him the name Jesus, the name the angel had given him before his conception.

Christ the Lord  When Jesus was born, the angels of heaven could not restrain their joy, so they appeared to some humble shepherds and gave them a Christmas Concert they would never forget – the birth of Christ shows that its consequences are unlimited by time and space. The same goes for his lordship. This child, this infant, holds the universe in his hands – which is why we sometimes see the infant Jesus depicted as a king, holding a sphere in his left hand (symbolizing the world) and a scepter in his right hand (symbolizing power and authority): Christ is Lord because he is God’s Anointed, even when lying in a lowly little manger.

Perhaps the most beautiful thing about this absolute, universal lordship is that it exists entirely for our sake. St Luke makes a point of telling us about Christ’s circumcision day, the day when he shed his first drop of blood, taking his place among sinners so that he could redeem them. It was traditional to give a boy his name on the same day he was circumcised. And so Mary and Joseph give him the name that God had assigned him through Gabriel’s message: Jesus, which means “God saves”. Luke reminds us that this name was given him even before he was conceived in Mary’s womb. The Word of God created us because he knew we would like it, and now he comes to redeem us because he knows we need it. Christ’s whole life, his whole mission, is for our good, for our salvation.

Jesus’ us-centered orientation wasn’t an afterthought; we are the reason Jesus came to earth, lived, taught, healed, suffered, died and rose again. Perhaps this is why saints throughout the ages have found in the simple name of “Jesus” one of their favorite and most fruitful prayers. Merely invoking our Lord, repeating his name over and over again, gives rest to our souls, because that’s exactly what he came to do.

GovertFlinckAngelsAnnouncingTheBirthOfChristToTheShepherdsWGA07928Christ as Teacher How are we to respond to the wonders God has done and is doing in the world and in our own lives? We are to respond by following the shepherds’ example. First, we should “hurry away” to find Christ, go in haste to seek him out in the midst of his family, the Church, here represented by Mary and Joseph. Second, as the shepherds “repeated what they had been told” about Christ, we should make known the message we have received. Third, we should “glorify and praise” the God who comes to save. We must allow the wonder of God’s love to burst into our lives, as the shepherds did. We too must let God’s marvelous works amaze us, never falling into a blasé attitude, a routine, been-there-done-that Christian mediocrity. Children get excited every Christmas, so why shouldn’t we, who know so much more about the real meaning of the story, let it fill us with spiritual enthusiasm every single day?

We should also respond as Mary did: “Mary treasured all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” God did not tell Mary his entire plan. We know much more than she did about how everything was going to work out. She had to walk in the dim light of faith, one step at a time, trusting in God, witnessing his action, and seconding it whenever she could. But she paid attention. She knew that the life and mission of Christ eclipsed in importance any other concern or event that might surface. She pondered in her heart all of God’s gifts to her, all of his words, all of his actions and plans” She was truly a woman of the Kingdom. We need to learn this lesson as well, to be men and women who “seek first the Kingdom,” and let everything else fall comfortably (and properly) into second place (Cf. Matthew 6:33).

Christ as Friend God wants to give us the fullness of life. And he can give it to us – as a matter of fact, only he can. The problem is that we tend not to pay attention to him. His love, however, is determined. So he came up with a radical solution: he became a little baby, a helpless infant. Everyone pays attention to babies. So now we will look at him, even if only to see how cute he is. That’s a start. Let’s not belittle this reality! Coming to the baby Jesus and letting ourselves be charmed by his simplicity and innocence should be a frequent practice of our spiritual life – not something reserved exclusively to the Christmas season. We should, like the shepherds, gather around the manger with Mary and Joseph, and bask in the warm light of God’s love radiating out from the infant Lord.

Christ in My Life 

  • You have revealed your name to me, because you want to stay close to me. Whenever I speak your name from my heart, you turn your attention to me. When I call you, you always come to me. You want to be available, to be close, to stay near. Why don’t I call you more often? Why do I let the hustle and bustle of life drown you out? Jesus, please walk with me…

  • More than half the people in this world still don’t know you and believe in you. I am one of the privileged minority who has received the Good News. Teach me, Lord, to be full of joy and generosity, like the shepherds, full of wonder and contemplation, like Mary, and full of the eager desire to spread the word…

  • How odd this Christmas story really is! The Creator and Sustainer of the universe becoming a little infant! No other religion has such a strange event… Dear Jesus, let me hold you in my arms. You are so small, so helpless. Let me take care of you. I adore you, Lord. I will never leave you, never abandon you. You are my life and my joy. You are safe with me, and you know that I love you. You can trust me, my Child; I love you, and I will watch over you…

PS: This is just one of 303 units of Fr. John’s fantastic book The Better Part. To learn more about The Better Part or to purchase in print, Kindle or iPhone editions, click here. Also, please help us get these resources to people who do not have the funds or ability to acquire them by clicking here.


Art: Cover of The Better Part used with permission. Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds, Govert Flinck, 1639, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

Profile photo of Fr. Bartunek

About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ” while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, “Inside the Passion”–the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: “The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer”. His most recent books are “Spring Meditations”, “Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength”, and “Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions”. Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at RCSpirituality.org, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at SpiritualDirection.com.

This article is reprinted with permission from our friends at Roman Catholic Spiritual Direction.

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