My kids can’t wait until Christmas morning when they get more stuff. They already have a room overflowing with toys and craft supplies and books and stuffed animals. I don’t even know what to get them anymore! But they can’t wait to get more every December.

Christmas is a time of gifts and special treats. And there is nothing wrong with that in its proper place. Gary Chapman wrote an entire series of best-selling books explaining how gift-giving is a language of love. My daughter certainly speaks it. Hardly a day goes by when she isn’t giving someone a homemade gift or even one of her own toys. Of course, she wants to get gifts, too … Not easy for a “words” person like me.

And let us not forget gift-giving is a part of the nativity. Our Lord was given gold, frankincense, and myrrh by those three wise men who traveled so far to see and honor the baby royal. Gift giving was, and still is, a reasonable response to a day worth celebrating.

Treasures of the heart

The problem is what happens the day after Christmas: The toys are piled up with the others from last year and the year before. I’ve found toys in my children’s rooms that were still in unopened packages from the previous Christmas. The beautifully decorated packages that seemed so precious under the tree became just another part of the landscape of things, forgotten and underappreciated.

Maybe that’s why this scripture from the nativity stands out to me: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).

I picture the young mother, smiling down at the newborn baby in her arms. She counts His toes and fingers and marvels at the tiny gift God gave her. The shepherds come in awe, telling stories of a great crowd of angels filling the sky who told them to come and worship the child.

There she was—in a barn, no cozy home to nest, no midwife or mother to help take care of the baby, surrounded by shepherds fresh off the fields. There was no baby shower or flowers. But Mary believed the angel when he told her of God’s favor and blessing upon her. And she tucked those memories deep in her heart and kept them there as a priceless treasure.

That wasn’t the only time the Bible tells us Mary treasured memories in her heart. When Jesus was 12, Mary and Joseph accidentally left Him in the city and traveled an entire day before realizing He was gone. Three days later, they found Him sitting at the temple, soaking up teachings of the scribes. And even though Mary started out distressed, she went home in awe. The Bible says she “treasured up all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51).

Gifts that last forever

Sometimes the Christmas season has us so focused on the physical gifts that we miss the kind that don’t have a price tag. We’re bombarded with the stress of budgeting, managing schedules, making everything “fair,” and eating lots of food! (Okay, maybe that last one is just me.) But all these things distract us from the treasures that can’t be boxed up and forgotten in a year or two.

Jesus said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasure in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Did you see that? There’s a link between what we treasure and where we find our hearts.

It’s simple, really. What you treasure, you think about. And what you think about all the time becomes the guide for your life. Have you ever tried to drive while looking away from the road and thinking about something else? That’s how people end up in the ditch. And that’s how Christmas becomes a holiday of stuff.

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Pondering right

Consider the last few Christmases. Can you remember what happened or is it just a blur? Did you have the right treasures in your heart or was it filled with the wrong kind of ponderings? Did you ever sit down and capture the valuable moments you wanted to treasure in your heart forever?

This Christmas, we should all take a page from Mary’s book and start adding to the treasures of our hearts. God places so many spiritual gifts under our figurative Christmas trees every year that there is no way we could run out of treasures to ponder.

You might be thinking, This has been a really rough year for me, and the last thing I want to do is revisit everything that happened. Believe it or not, even suffering gives us reason to praise.

Consider the miseries of Jesus on the cross. While He suffered, His mother stood at His feet watching Him die. Was she pondering all those treasures of His childhood then? She must have been. The little toes, the shepherds, the wise men, the little boy at the temple.

And then she probably thought about the old prophet Simeon at Jesus’s infant dedication, who told her, “a sword will pierce through your own soul also.” I wonder if she knew at that moment what Simeon meant. He said all this must happen “so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed” (Luke 2:35).

Don’t let grief stop you from believing what God has done and what He will do. We humans are complicated creatures, able to feel both joy and sorrow at the same time. Let Christmas be the season when you allow those feelings to wash over you, even for a little while. Here are a couple of suggestions.

Reflect on His goodness

Find a day in this season of stuff when you can take a 30-minute break and think of the treasures that are being stored in heaven through your life.

Then make a list of all the things God has done in your life the past year. Think of prayers answered, seeds sown, disciples made, moments of praise when there were no reasons other than the presence of God, a healed child, a missed wreck, a moment of clarity.

I do this in two ways. Every year I write a Christmas letter, which helps me look back and find themes God is teaching me throughout the year. In addition, I buy a large glass vile I turn into an ornament. Inside the vile, I insert a rolled-up sheet of paper, where I have made a list of all the big memories from the year. Both of these activities force me to sit down in all the busyness and meditate on the blessings of God.

Reflect on His Word

When you feel overwhelmed by all the useless “pondering” of stress, worry, and fear, remember Philippians 4:8, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Print this verse off and stick it on your fridge, clip it to your daily planner, make it a meme on your phone … wherever you’ll see it most often. Don’t let the world steal the joy of the Christmas season and all God has gifted to you. Ponder those things. Treasure them in your heart. Because when the toys, gifts, and wrapping paper are in the trash bin next year, the blessings of God will be well preserved in your heart.

Copyright © 2019 by Sabrina McDonald. All rights reserved.