Magazines 2023 Nov - Dec Pondering the imponderable

Pondering the imponderable

31 October 2023 By David Guretzki

Some mysteries are not for solving / Également disponible en français

en français

My wife Maureen and I recently watched a documentary about people who’ve mysteriously disappeared from national parks. In most cases they’re never found, leaving absolutely no clues.

The way we processed the episodes reflects how very differently we think about things. For me a mystery is something to be solved. I try to find and offer rational explanations. But Maureen is somehow able to accept that sometimes things just happen that can’t be explained.

It’s a tradition in our home that before we exchange family gifts on Christmas Eve, I read the Nativity account in Luke 2. I’ve always loved the angelic announcement and the shepherds’ triumphant proclamation of having seen the Christ child. We often discuss verse 19: "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart."

That verse has been, well, a mystery to me. I’ve wondered what exactly it is Mary treasured and pondered. I wish for insight into what she was thinking. I’m looking forward to asking her someday.

Maureen reads this verse very differently. When I ask her what she thinks Mary was pondering, it is as if I’m asking her to solve a calculus problem. Of course, Mary is content to ponder such wonderous things happening around her. It astounds me she accepts that. For Maureen, there’s no need for the text to reveal exactly what Mary was thinking. She is better with mystery.

When Luke was writing his Gospel, he likely had access to someone (Peter, James or John perhaps?) to whom Mary personally revealed this part of the story. But I still wonder why Luke included this statement about Mary in the middle of the shepherd account.

While the shepherds loudly whoop it up, Mary sits quietly pondering the great unfolding mystery – of Immanuel.

While the shepherds loudly whoop it up, Mary sits quietly pondering the great unfolding mystery – of Immanuel, God appearing in this little baby named Jesus.

Mary – and Maureen – have much I can learn from. I, the theologian, scratch my head to better understand exactly the occurrence of the Incarnation and what it all means, but Mary – and Maureen – quietly ponder and treasure these things in their hearts.

In AD 451 ancient theologians held a meeting in Chalcedon, a city near modern-day Istanbul, and grappled with how to describe the relationship between Christ’s humanity and divinity. They reflected on what theologians call the hypostatic union, that is, how in Jesus the divine and human natures come together (union) in one person (hypostasis). Today most branches of Christianity (though not all) accept the Chalcedonian formula as being an authoritative statement of our doctrine of Christ.

Among other things, Chalcedonian theologians crafted a statement which defines how the divine and human natures of Jesus are related. An important snippet of that definition states the two natures are:

  • unmixed: the natures do not form a hybrid half-God, half-human being
  • unchanged: in coming together the divine and the human still remain fully divine and fully human
  • undivided: whatever Jesus does He always does together as both God and human
  • unseparated: the natures remain permanently fused such that even today Jesus remains both fully divine and fully human.

Now what’s fascinating is that the Chalcedonian definition never concludes exactly how the human and divine reside in Jesus, as much as how they do not.

Though the Chalcedonian theologians ultimately agreed that in Jesus divine and human come together, they only confess in the negative how they are joined – not confused, not changed, not divided and not separated. The Incarnation, the hypostatic union, Immanuel, the Baby of Bethlehem, or whatever designation we prefer, is not so much something to be understood as much as it is to be pondered. The Incarnation, in other words, is the maximum of all miracles, the most majestic of all marvels, the most mysterious of all mysteries. Jesus is to be worshipped and adored in His absolute uniqueness.

In her pondering Mary treasured the revelation of who this Child is deep in her heart.

Let us by all means be like shepherds and angels – loudly glorifying and praising God for His great Gift! But, like Mary, let us also sit quietly, and ponder and treasure deep in our hearts and souls this miraculous marvel, Jesus Christ, God and human, who has humbly and lovingly come to be with us and for our sake.

david guretzki
David Guretzki is the EFC’s president and CEO. Read more of these columns at Photo of stained glass window:

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