Because we first heard Christmas stories as children, we can think of them as nursery tales; simple and unsophisticated remnants of our youth. Those which are found in the scriptures, however, are embedded in the Gospels and are mature, profound, and part of a sophisticated presentation. None more so than Luke.
Luke is a very thoughtful writer, and we must read him carefully and often to truly understand him. Only then will the interconnections be revealed and become real. Luke wrote both his Gospel and the “Acts of the Apostles”, and we must take them as a whole. After many readings the importance of the parable of the Sower becomes clear. Remember the story: a farmer planted his crop by casting seeds onto his field. Some fell on a path and were trampled, some on rocky ground or among thorns where they could not grow but others on good ground where they produced fruit a hundred-fold.
Every passage of Luke is related to other parts of Luke or the Old Testament.
Listen to this verse:
Those on rocky ground are the ones who,
when they hear, receive the word with joy,
but they have no root;
they believe only for a time
and fall away in time of trial.
Are they not like the shepherds we meet today?
They went in haste and found the holy family, testified to their neighbors, “praised God for all they had seen and heard” and then disappeared from history. The early church loved to make up stories, we have detailed biographies of the early apostles although we have as little information about them as on the shepherds. But we have no stories of the shepherds. The early church understood Luke and knew that the shepherds had no roots and would fall away when challenged.
Listen to another verse from the parable:
But as for the seed that fell on rich soil,
they are the ones who, when they have heard the word,
embrace it with a generous and good heart,
and bear fruit through perseverance
Is that not Mary?
And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.
Luke introduced her to us as a very young girl who heard the word from the angel Gabriel and embraced it by referring to herself as the body servant of the Lord. She then showed her fruitfulness in her love for her kinswoman Elizabeth before bearing Jesus.
But as Luke indicates being a follower of Jesus requires constant dedication, either we continue to bear fruit, or we fall away.
Mary “reflected on these things in her heart” she kept them at the center of her life. We see her again 40 days after Jesus’s birth in the temple for their purification and the aged priest Simeon, takes Jesus and says to Mary
“Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel,
and to be a sign that will be contradicted
(and you yourself a sword will pierce)
This is a very Jewish way of saying that knowing Jesus will force a person to choose for or against him and she will not be exempted. She will have her time a of trial. Indeed, we see it in the same chapter
When Jesus was in his early teens Mary and Joseph went with him to a festival in Jerusalem. He left them and spent his time with the great teachers in the temple. When they found him rather than being contrite, he told them that he must be about his Father’s business and Mary again “kept all these things in her heart.” (Lk 2:51).
Mary is in many ways the key to Luke’s writing because she is the first and closest follower of Jesus. But even she does not get a free ride, she like the shepherds and us will be tempted to give up. Mary perseveres because she keeps Jesus in her heart.
Mary is a good role model because she, like us, lived an unspectacular life with the temptations of everyday life. These temptations are made more difficult because of Jesus. We might think that our lives should be easier because we know Jesus yet that is far from the case. It is said that only love and truth truly hurt, and Jesus is both.
When we see the death of a young person, we must ask how can God be both loving and all- powerful. Can we see the drone attacks in Ukraine or the pictures of Buffalo this Christmas and not ask, where is Jesus? No doubt Mary had to answer similar questions for herself, but she had a most particular trial. Jesus may have left home but she knew what he was saying and doing and what would eventually happen to him. He is her God but also her son, and she is expected to let him go to a horrifying death.
Immediately after the parable of the Sower, Mary and his family sought after Jesus. Jesus was surrounded by a crowd and when told that they were there responded: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.” Mary has proven herself a disciple indeed the body servant of Jesus up to this point. Yet now she is faced with the ultimate temptation. Can she let him go to his death? Luke answers this as the master writer that he is. He holds us in suspense until the “Acts of the Apostles” when she is with the Apostles in the upper room at Pentecost. She is the only person who is found in every part of Luke’s writings, like Paul she completed the race and received her merited crown.
Mary is the perfect person with whom to start the year. Our love of Jesus will cause us problems this, as every year, and Mary’s example to keep him always in our hearts will make us all imperfect but nonetheless real disciples.