Solemnity of Mary Mother of God
January 1, 2021
St. Anselm Church – Sudbury, MA
Readings: Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67: Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
“And Mary reflected on all these things in her heart.”
I wonder what that reflection looked like, what it felt like to her.
We hear this line a number of times across the gospels. And I think that inside of it there’s a pattern of how Mary related to God, and possibly a model to follow for us too.
More on that in a little bit…
We celebrate today the solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Now that’s a big statement! An ordinary Jewish woman of the town of Nazareth in Galilee (not exactly the nerve center of ancient Judah) we are calling Mother of GOD! The Greeks called her Theotokos — literally, “God bearer” or Mother of God as we have come to say.
You can imagine this was a somewhat controversial title, to suggest a human woman should be called Mother of God. The term came into use in the eastern Mediterranean Christian community in the 4th century, and was, at the Council of Ephesus in 431 finally officially approved by the Church as a designation for Mary.
What are we saying when we call Mary “Mother of God”? We are expressing the amazing reality of God choosing Mary, this simple person to be the human mother of the eternal Son ‘born before all ages’ (as we say of Christ in the Creed). Mary was chosen to carry him safe into this world, to nurture him in childhood and teach him, so that he could fulfill his mission of saving all the world. Mary is the holy entry point of the divine into the human, the sanctification of human flesh (starting with Mary’s own).
Here we are getting into very mystical and theologically deep territory, but totally essential dimensions of Christian faith. St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians explains eloquently what happened when Christ was born to Mary.
He says that Jesus was born into this world because God sought to “ransom those under the law” — those who, like you and me who, are otherwise enslaved by our sinful nature, fated in a sense to doing what is wrong and thus, under the law and under justice, are worthy of punishment.
Consider even our civil laws; they exist to deal with our human tendency to sin — to punish wrong-doing.
God, like the law, is just; but, unlike the law, God is merciful. This is why he gives of his very self – he sends his son, as ransom for us, to make up for what is lacking in our righteousness, to give us help.
But more than that: St. Paul says, to “give us adoption as sons”. You might say, what about the daughters?!
In Jewish law only Sons could inherit, not daughters, so addressing all of us as “brothers and sisters” but then saying God adopts us as “Sons” St. Paul is saying we are heirs of God. That is important because what it meant to be an heir at the time was to be almost a continuation of the same person. The son was an extension of his father. This is what St. Paul means by saying Christ makes us to be “sharers of the same divine nature” as God, and thus we inherit eternal life.
Christ being born of Mary to ‘ransom us’ means nothing short of forging a mystical union between us and God.
We mark this individually by the sacrament of Baptism, in which we are washed clean of the guilt of original sin and given a divine nature, the promise of eternal life. And the Holy Spirit makes a home inside of us, to move us to prayer and yearn for union with God. As St. Paul says, a spirit which cries out “Abba, Father”.
In baptism an ontological change takes place — a change in our inner being, to be not only human but ‘sharers in the divine nature’. The catechism puts it this way:
Baptism not only purifies from all sins but also makes the neophyte “a new creature,” an adopted son of God, who has become a “partaker of the divine nature,” member of Christ and co-heir with him, and a temple of the Holy Spirit. (Catechism of the Catholic Church ¶1265)
As you can see, Mary had a big vocation with big consequences! God called her to something totally unique. God relied upon her and trusted her — not in spite of her being ordinary (not royalty or a person of great education) but because she was an ordinary person, yet she possessed an extraordinary capacity to hear the voice of God and be faithful to it.
Her faithfulness is so remarkable because she said yes to what God called her to, without knowing much of the details.
- It was enough for Mary, when the angel visited her, to know in her heart that it was God really speaking. And she said yes.
- Only over time did the events of her life provide confirmation and increased her understanding of the divine project she’d agreed to cooperate with…
- Such as when her cousin Elizabeth, childless for years, suddenly was with child
- Or when the Shepherds we heard about in today’s gospel, unexpectedly visited her and Joseph and the baby Jesus in a barn, proclaiming what they had been told by an angel.
- Or still later when they present Jesus in the temple (as we heard in last Sunday’s gospel) and they were met by two strangers, Simeon and Anna, who proclaim this child to be the messiah.
- The Details of Mary’s vocation, of what God was calling her to, unfolded over time. Thank God she did not need all of the details before saying yes.
Consider for a minute, how has God called you, to be…
- His child
- A sharer in Divine nature
- A home for the Holy Spirit?
For you are in your deepest self all those things.
In what simple, humble, and daily sorts of ways have the events of your life confirmed and deepened your knowledge of what God has called you to be?
- Perhaps in the twists and turns of your marriage and family relationships?
- The unfolding of your career?
- The precious moments that return you to what’s important – like births, deaths and forgiveness?
- Quiet moments where the Spirit prays in you, calling out to God… and you reflect upon all this in your heart?
So we return to that saying about Mary: “she reflected upon all these things in her heart.” I said earlier that I think this suggests a pattern for how Mary related to God, and how she lived her vocation. In some bible translations “reflected on” is conveyed as “treasured” or “savored” or “pondered”. Notice what feelings those words convey to you. It’s very different, isn’t it, from, say: “She worried about everything that was happening and the anxiety was killing her!”
We can expend much energy in anxiety over figuring out and controlling everything in our lives. Instead we might try, like Mary, to reflect, to ponder, to savor and treasure in our hearts — without judgment — what God may be showing us, giving us as gift, or calling us to recognize is holy ground.
The difference between pondering & reflecting like Mary did, and worrying in anxiety as we might do all too often… is the difference between praying at its best and thinking at its worst.
Praying is like loosening our grip of control and letting the Spirit take over. Thinking is more controlling; at its worst it’s like a tight grip that leaves no room in our hands to receive God’s gift.
In praying God is in control. In thinking we are in control.
In praying we let God be the judge. In anxious thinking we are a harsh judge – of self, of others, of everything.
So let’s loosen our grip, to allow the God — who calls us his children, who gives us an eternal inheritance, and who makes a home in our hearts — be the one to direct our path. Like Mary we may achieve her obedience before God, her delight in God’s love, and enjoy peace in our hearts when we ponder, reflect, savor, and treasure rather than control and judge – indeed, when we pray.
Let us pray, as Mary did (in her Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55):
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for He has looked with favor on His humble servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed,
the Almighty has done great things for me,
and holy is His Name. (Luke 1:46-49)