christmas-1010749_1920

December has been brutal to our family this year. We had to put one of our dogs down, which, as any pet owner can tell you, is emotionally draining, to say the least. I’ve also spent a fair bit of time at the doctor this month. Three of us (myself included) have had or are still dealing with ear infections, one of my sons had a stomach virus, and I lost my voice for more than a week. Add this to the general chaos of five kids in four different schools with the various gift exchanges, classroom parties, concerts, and programs that go along with the season, and I’m just a hot mess. I got the tree up a week ago, but no other decorations until this weekend when my kids asked about the nativities. I’m flying by the seat of my pants for gifts for my kids. I’m all for the idea of “slowing down and enjoying the season,” but seriously, how?? And I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. It’s a regular topic of conversation and texting among my friends. It seems like everyone feels overwhelmed.

Mary knew a thing or two about being overwhelmed. Imagine her shock when Gabriel appeared to her to let her know she was to bear the son of God. She had been chosen by God to be the mother of the Savior! What an incredible honor! And yet… Mary was still a virgin. She knew that, but would anyone else believe her? She was a pregnant, unmarried woman in a society that didn’t condone pregnancy out of wedlock. This incredible honor God was bestowing upon her came with its own set of challenges.

Joseph was in a similar boat. Thanks to the angel appearing to him in a dream, he knew Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit, so he took her as his wife, but he must have known rumors would swirl in Nazareth. People must have whispered behind his back, speculating about how Mary *really* got pregnant. Was the baby his or not? And if not, why on earth would he still marry her? He must be the biggest chump in history.

But there was still more. Thanks to Caesar’s decree, they had to travel to Bethlehem for a census. On the one hand, this took care of the rumors swirling about them. People in Bethlehem wouldn’t have known the circumstances surrounding the pregnancy. But this trip created new problems. It was a three- or four-day journey on foot (or donkey) from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a challenging trip to make with a pregnant woman. Once they got to Bethlehem, Mary had to give birth in an unfamiliar setting without her family around. She placed the Savior of the world in a feeding trough. Lowly shepherds were the first visitors to the King of kings. In her shoes, I might have been a little miffed. This is the best God can do for the arrival of His Son? Yet the Bible records a very different reaction from Mary—she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

Mary would need those memories and promises of God treasured in her heart for the days to come. When they presented Jesus at the temple forty days after His birth, Simeon told Mary, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too” (Luke 2:34-35). Not exactly a ringing endorsement of what would lie ahead for the earthly work of Jesus. Mary must have wondered what exactly that “sword” would be that would pierce her own soul. How could she have imagined the cross?

Within a year or so, Mary and Joseph found themselves stunned by a visit from the Maji, who presented Jesus with gifts fitting for a king. Yet even in the midst of this wonderful event, more troubles surfaced. Mary and Joseph were forced to flee to Egypt with Jesus to escape King Herod’s murderous intent to kill the infant King. In their shoes, I know I would have been thinking, “Really, God? Do You even have a plan here? I don’t know how much more of this I can handle.”

Can you relate? Do you feel so overwhelmed you aren’t sure you can handle anything else? Take heart. Mary didn’t wait until after Jesus’ death and resurrection to treasure up the promises of God. She did it right in the midst of the chaos, surrounded by strangers in an unfamiliar town, having just given birth to the long-awaited Messiah. Overwhelmed? Yes. But she took a moment to “ponder” all those events in her heart. She didn’t know how the story would play out. She didn’t know what Jesus’ earthly ministry would look like. She almost certainly didn’t know she would one day watch her Son die on the cross for the sins of the world, including her own. She didn’t need to know all that. At that moment, she was content to dwell on God’s promises.

So what does that look like for us, 2000 years later? Simply this: don’t wait until life slows down before you “treasure up all these things and ponder them in your heart.” In the middle of the chaos is when you need God’s promises the most. You have something Mary didn’t have: perspective. You know how the story ends. You know God’s plan was far bigger than anyone could have imagined. You know the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah were all fulfilled in Jesus. You’ve seen God keep His promises in the past, so you know every single promises He makes in the Bible will see its fulfillment, even if some promises won’t be fully realized until heaven.

Take a minute today—right now—to find a Bible verse to meditate upon. (Perhaps something like Jesus’ promise in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”) Write it down and stick it in your pocket, or on a sticky note to put on your mirror. Think about it throughout the day and ponder what that promise means for you. Even in the chaos—no, especially in the chaos—God is waiting to fulfill every promise to you.