"But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart." (Luke 2:19 RSV).
Memory is one of God’s most wonderful gifts. Just how wonderful we hardly realise in the early years when the ability of recall is at its best. We take the gift for granted using it without thought of how wonderful it is. It is only when decay of our frail human nature begins to show itself, that we realise what we are losing. Yet what a rich blessing it is that we can store the events of life, can recapture the characters we’ve known and the activities we’ve enjoyed because of what we have learned.
Mary is generally regarded as having been quite young when Jesus was born. When her firstborn came into the world in Bethlehem she was still in her ‘peak learning time’, her memory still absorbing facts quickly and her recall would be vivid. Before the angel Gabriel came to tell her that she was to give birth to the Son of God, Mary would have spent long hours through childhood memorising the Jewish Holy Scriptures. Her education would include learning well all the ancient stories of the people of Israel. The memories of Jewish children were well trained and there was no easy dependence upon books and computers for them. They could recite long passages from the Old Testament as many Jews can today and their brains were the better trained to do God’s will for focusing upon His word. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, out of the storehouse of memory Mary was able to compose the magnificent poem of Luke 1:46‑55.
As the events of those stirring days passed so the heart and mind already attuned and focused on godly things, was able to ‘ponder’ and remember what was happening. Shepherds and angels, prophets and Magi, all added to the wonderful tapestry of Mary’s thoughts. Undoubtedly she retained much more than she related to Luke in after years. She saw the growing child, and like any good mother she was excited by each step of her children’s growth and development. Perhaps more than any other mother she vigilantly watched her eldest grow strong and healthy in body and blossom into adolescence. She notices the part He played in family and social life. There must have been times when it was not easy to feed and clothe that growing family. She recalled so well the visit to Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve and became ‘lost’. But there is no record that the two were ever at odds with each other in spite of what has been written about Luke 2:48 and Mark 3:31‑35. The young man had an enquiring mind which was expanding under the power of the Spirit. His mother too had within her the spirit of enquiry and it was inevitable that, like many of God’s servants before and after, she could not keep pace with events in her own life. She turned them over and over in her mind, treasuring the things which revealed her place in the purposes of God. But she was a real human mother and must often have laughed and cried about what was happening in her life. Through it all God revealed enough to enable her to understand and come to terms with these wonderful events; and more importantly come to terms with the wonderful person who had been cradled beneath her heart, and whom she had cuddled and nurtured till he was old enough to go forth into the world. Her memory was marked by the birthdays as he grew. What did she make of the events in Nazareth recorded in Luke 4:6‑30? How did she face the gathering storm and recall those words of Simeon in the Temple?
Mary of Nazareth, mother of Jesus, wife of Joseph the carpenter, daughter in the line of King David, is an example to us of how the memory can be used to good effect. It was not the sordid gossip of Galilee that she remembered nor the moments of pain in family life. Her thoughts were fixed upon the God she served so well and she recalled just those things which enable us to catch a glimpse of a real live boy growing up to be the Saviour of the world.
We too, like Mary, must ever keep our thoughts from wandering, for wander they will. It is not always easy to meditate but prayer and discipline will help us in a day when the media has gone mad and is out of control. But if we ponder Him, who Mary must have thought about so often, then at last we will be ready and prepared to share with Him in the work of redemption of all people including those who would so readily have killed Mary’s child. We too must remember and recall the great things that God has done for us, for this is, as the Psalmist often reminds us, the grandest reason for having a memory.