A television commercial pictures a frolicking family treading lightly through the snow, carrying a bunch of brightly wrapped packages. One package falls to the ground, seemingly unnoticed. With bells jingling in the background, the smallest child in the family returns to pick up the nearly forgotten package. She smiles angelically at the camera. The tagline reads, “Restore the joy of Christmas. Shop at QVC.” Really?

Do marketing gurus really believe people will “buy” that sentiment? Apparently they do, and perhaps with good reason. Our consumerist culture eagerly embraces the notion that holiday joy and happiness can be ours based on what presents we might give and receive at Christmas.

Far be it from me to play the Christmas Scrooge. I enjoy giving and receiving gifts at this season as much as anyone. But I remind myself of the limitations of this custom to bring anything approaching true joy or lasting happiness.

I had to laugh recently while listening to the audio book of Charles Dickens “Great Expectations,” when Pip, upon acquiring his first tailored suit observed, “It is never quite as impressive as you had imagined once you put it on.” I recently purchased some new clothes for myself and I have been noticing the truth of Pip’s observation.

So when I ask, “What are you keeping this Christmas” I am not wondering which of the ties, socks, coats, sweaters or any other of the gifts you may receive will survive the inevitable returns following this coming holiday.

Some avoid the consumerist trap of Christmas by asserting that no, the holiday is all about family. Whether gathered together at home or on some long planned vacation trip, it’s easy to believe that the joy of the season centers on spending quality time with the ones we love. And certainly, family can be one our greatest sources of joy. Having recently become a member of the best club in the world—that of grandparents—I am amazed that even more happiness than before comes through being with my family. Just the anticipation can be so very satisfying. And yet even these joys are surprisingly fleeting.  

This past Thanksgiving I was delighting in holding my granddaughter aloft and babbling baby talk to her. She smiled down at me and then promptly spit up all over my face. Even the best of family times can sometimes turn a bit “sour.”  So when I ask, “What are you keeping this Christmas” I am not referring to the warm memories we create with loved ones.

My question came to mind as I reflected on a verse from the Christmas story: “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). What did this Jewish teenager keep and ponder in her heart that first Christmas Day?

Mary’s life had been dramatically altered by a series of events, beginning with an angel’s promise that, though still a virgin and only recently engaged, this young woman would become pregnant by a miracle of the Holy Spirit of God. Imagine the shock of this announcement and then the personal, physical changes and the wrenching social trauma she had to endure as it all came true. These things must have occupied most of her waking thoughts right up to the birth of that miracle baby.

Then imagine Mary’s week-long journey to Bethlehem, over dusty bumpy dirt roads, nine months pregnant on the back of a donkey. She is far away from home—with her husband, yes, but away from friends and family—giving birth to her first child in a dark and dank cave. But then what’s this? Her most private intimate moments, the reverie of holding her newborn child in that cave was suddenly (no doubt a bit rudely) invaded by a flock of strange, swarthy and perhaps smelly shepherds who wished to see the baby. Then they promptly ran away to tell others what they’d seen.

How strange and overwhelming this confluence of circumstances must have been. Yet there was much that Mary “kept” and “pondered” in her heart. These two words are more intense in the Greek text of the Scripture. The word for “keep” is to hold with care and concern, so as to preserve as an inheritance, to treasure. The Bible tells us that God “keeps” those of us who are sealed by his Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus. The word for “ponder” is to scrutinize, to turn something over in one’s mind so as to deeply consider its implications. No doubt Mary was doing quite a bit of considering and meditating; wrestling to come to grips with all that was happening to her as well as all that had been predicted for her son.

Think of it. Mary had received amazing and precious promises from God, not only about the miraculous conception, but the miraculous destiny of that baby. She had accepted these promises by faith, saying to the angel, “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Yet living through it all was no easy task to be sure. So by faith she treasured and she meditated in her heart and she continued to believe. What an amazing example she is for us as we make our own journey from wherever we may be toward Bethlehem this year.

While our loved ones, and yes, even gifts, may be a big part of our celebration this Christmas, our true and lasting joy will be found only as we keep and ponder in our own hearts the wonder of what God has done for us in Christ. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). When we hold tightly, meditate and think deeply on this amazing inheritance that is ours in Him, we open ourselves up to a special touch from God. That’s something I know I need for myself at this season. What about you?

Like Mary, we have precious promises from God, some of which have come to pass, but many if not most are yet to come. Nor does our faith in these promises prevent us from experiencing circumstances that may challenge our understanding, challenge our endurance, and challenge our determination to trust in God. Let us resolve this Christmas to press on, to ponder his many and precious promises to us and to keep trusting and believing in him. I am quite sure that in so doing we will know and experience the true and lasting joy of the Savior’s birth. May that joy fill your heart and your home as you keep and ponder in your heart His precious Word.