Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
Today’s Feast affirms that we Catholics believe that the Virgin Mary truly is the Mother of God. This Catholic Dogma finds its origin in the Gospel of Luke in the passage on visitation. Upon her arrival, Elizabeth filled with the Holy Spirit proclaimed that Mary was truly the Mother of God. She said to Mary, “And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?” she rejoiced in her presence. We Christians are aware that life of Jesus begins with Mary. Therefore, it is appropriate that we begin the New Year with a Feast of Mary, the Mother of God and Jesus who was named on this day. Since Mary is the Mother of God she is the mother who brought joy to the world. So the traditional greeting on this first day of the New Year is one of joy: Happy New Year! As the Church celebrates the divine maternity of Mary, we also celebrate the World Peace Day, indicating to everyone that Jesus Christ is the prince of peace and Mary Mother of God is honoured as the “Queen of Peace”
This feast of Mary the Mother of God is closely connected to the feast of Christmas and is the most important and oldest of the feasts of Mary. It is based on the source of her privileges: her divine motherhood. Jesus Christ, God’s Son “born of a woman,” came to deliver us from sin and make us children of God. He is also Mary’s Son, and she, his mother, helps bring his blessings to the world. She is “truly the Mother of God and of the Redeemer…not merely passively engaged by God, but freely cooperating in the work of our salvation through faith and obedience.” Mary was not simply a passive instrument in God’s hands; rather she discovered and accepted new dimensions to her motherhood as her life unfolded. This Solemnity of Mary Mother of God falls exactly one week after Christmas, the end of the octave of Christmas. It is fitting to honour Mary as Mother of Jesus, following the birth of Christ. Calling Mary “mother of God” is the highest honour we can give Mary.
In the First Reading from the Book of Numbers we heard of the Lord’s blessing upon the Israelites. The Lord God is preparing the people of Israel for the journey toward the Promised Land. Occupying the central place throughout their journey is the Ark of the Covenant. They are now given the privilege of pronouncing the name of God over the people which takes the form of a blessing. This blessing, in the form of a prayer, was frequently used by the priests when they blessed the people. The Lord spoke to Moses and asked him to speak to Aaron and his sons, giving them these words of Blessing: ‘The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.’ This echoes a sign of the Divine pleasure, a time when the grace of God that results in peace. The blessing builds a special bond between God and his people. God’s benevolence is a light shining on them like the sun to nourish them and guide their way. God’s peace will protect them from all harm. He will be with them always and will bless them.
St Paul tells us in today’s Second Reading, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as children.” The woman who bore Jesus is Mary. Since he is the son of God, she is rightly called Mother of God. Paul tells us that Jesus coming under the natural law has transformed us making us the children of God. No longer slaves and servants but heirs as sons and daughters, and brothers and sisters of Jesus. As Paul says, with Jesus the Son, we now can, like him, address in loving intimacy God the Father as “Abba”, a term of affection. The Spirit of God’s Son has entered into our hearts. This Spirit enables us to call God Abba Father. At the same time we become brothers and sisters of Jesus and thus form a new family in Jesus our brother. In today’s feast we need to remember that it is Mary who played a crucial role in the bridging of the gap between God and ourselves. Therefore Paul tells us that we must love one another, because love comes from God and everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love. Mary who is the beacon of love has transformed us into a family of love.
In today’s Gospel Luke describes the simple scene in the stable at Bethlehem. The setting is of a peasant family with a new born child has found hospitality and shelter in a facility shared with farm animals. We see a man Joseph and a woman Mary who has just given birth to the child and the little baby Jesus. The child is resting in a manger. Their first visitors are the shepherds, a group of poor and despised and marginalised people, of the same economic and lowly status, the people God came especially to save and liberate. Second, we consider the message. The Angels have communicated to the shepherds that in the city of David a Saviour is born for them, Christ the Lord. They may not have understood anything of what the Angels had told them. Yet they obey their voice and go and look for the child. Later they go and tell others what they had seen and all were amazed.
Here we have Mary as a person and a mother who treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart. She ponders, considers and gives a careful thought to the message of the shepherds. She had indeed a great deal to ponder about and understand. She is not aware immediately what this entire means. There was much that now and in later years she would have to reflect on with regard to this Child of hers. In this way Mary presents herself as a preeminent model of Christian discipleship. No sooner than this most extraordinary event has taken place, than things move quickly to return to the ordinary. The Gospel ends with the description of the traditional circumcision of the young child in accordance with the Law and he is given the name Jesus. This name was given by God himself. Mary, of course, is primarily the mother of Jesus. She contributes from her own body to the formation of his human body. She is the mother of Jesus. But the Gospel speaks of his Father being God, not Joseph.
Mary represents, as it were, the maternal aspect of God, not only because her Son is also the Son of the Father, but because the Holy Spirit, through whose power she conceived, took up his dwelling in the Word made flesh. This mysterious relationship between Mary and the Holy Spirit, who made her virginity fruitful, manifests another maternal aspect of the Father, namely, his merciful love. The maternity of Mary is not therefore something purely functional; she is an authentic icon of the mystery of the Trinity. As the Father from all eternity generates the Son in the love of the Holy Spirit, so Mary, in the flesh, generated the same eternal Word by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Over the past several years, the first day of the New Year, has been designated World Day of Peace. It is very appropriate because today’s gospel story is filled with a beautiful thought of peace. In fact, it was in response to the angels’ song, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people on earth”, that the shepherds had gone in search of the baby in the manger. On this day, the Pope asks all of us to pray for peace and to work for peace. There are many places in the world today where there is a great deal of violence and conflict. Untold millions of innocent people are the victims. But, when we think of peace, we should not just think of the conflicts that take place around us in family’s states and nations. What we need in this attitude of peace is that we become agents of forgiveness and reconciliation. We can all be peace-makers. “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”
Today, we are starting a new day and a new year with inner knowledge and understanding of the greatness of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the Mother of God. We then conclude with the blessing as given in the first reading of today where the Lord blesses Moses and his community: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you his peace. May the peace of the Lord remain within us, our families and communities and bring us the joy and happiness in the year to come. The divine name appears in the Blessing, giving them life and warmth. The graciousness of God will be with them on their journey.
Fr Eugene Lobo SJ, Rome