Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Homily for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Homily for the Solemnity
of Mary, Mother of God
Jan. 1, 2013
Luke 2: 16-21
Christian Brothers, St. Joseph’s Home, N.R.

“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2: 19).

You may have noticed that today’s gospel is the same as for the 2d Mass of Christmas (at least you might if you were at Mass around dawn), except for the addition of one verse, the one about Jesus’ circumcision and naming.

That was a most important ritual for the holy child and for his family, and as you all surely remember was the focus of this feast day back in the “old days.”

Now, tho, the day’s focus has shifted to the Virgin Mary, particularly as the child’s mother, God’s mother, and implicitly as our mother, for she is the mother of the whole Christ, which includes us, his mystical body.

Let’s spend a few minutes imitating Mary by reflecting on these things, the things told to us in the gospel.

“The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem” (2:16).  They’d been given a message from heaven, a divine revelation, about the Savior’s birth—the angel of the Lord appearing to them out in the fields as they watched their flocks (2:8-9).  The message would do them no good, however, if they didn’t respond to it.  But they do respond, and they do so immediately, “in haste.”  In this immediate response, they are, unawares, imitating Mary herself, as we heard earlier in Luke’s gospel.  She received God’s heavenly messenger and responded positively:  “Let it be done to me as you say” (1:38).  And she went “in haste” into the Judean hills to her cousin Elizabeth (1:39).
Adoration of the Shepherds. Possibly by Tissot.
Not everyone who gets the message gets the message, i.e., accepts it and takes it to heart.  “All who heard were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds” (2:18), but apparently amazement doesn’t lead to faith.  No one else goes to the manger.  There are no stories of Jesus’ disciples in Bethlehem.  The story in itself is insufficient.  A response on our part is necessary; we have to act on what we hear.

The shepherds came to the manger and “made known the message that had been told them” (2:17).  In a sense, they’re the 1st human beings to bear the good news of the Savior.  Not only that, but it seems that they continue to tell the news after leaving the manger:  “All who heard it were amazed by what the shepherds told them.”

On the other hand, Mary too was a bearer of the good news, even before the shepherds.  When she went in haste to Elizabeth and Zechariah’s house, she was literally carrying the Good News—in her womb.  And she announced that good news by her mere presence and her greeting to Elizabeth, and the silent presence of Jesus, for unborn John recognized the Savior’s presence and leapt for joy (1:41).

The haste and the joy bespeak the importance and the import of this Good News, news that every Christian is commanded to spread.  We’re reminded of this universal Christian role over and over, since the Vatican Council and right up to these days of the “new evangelization.”  The message, the revelation, the truth we’ve heard calls for a response from us:  1st, one of acceptance, of belief, of conversion of life; then, one of telling it, carrying it to others, like Mary and like the shepherds.

Mary reflected on “all these things,” which presumably means everything from the day that Gabriel came to her up until Jesus’ birth and the coming of these strange visitors.  Luke will repeat that phrase at the end of the episode of the child’s disappearance and being found in Jerusalem, as we heard on Sunday.  Mary sets for the example of paying attention to what goes on in our lives and seeking God’s hand in those events.  For sure, we don’t have angels coming to us and helping us see how God wants to act with us.  But we shouldn’t think that Mary had read her own biography in advance and knew where all these events were taking her and taking her son.  Like us, she needed to think about them and pray over them and keep her heart open to whatever God might be asking of her.

A final response of the shepherds, after they’ve been to the manger and seen the child, is that they go back to their flocks in the fields, and they “glorify and praise God for all they had heard and seen” (2:20).  Their daily lives go on, as ours also must.  We meet God, and we return to our “normal” lives.  But not as before.  Now the shepherds are praising God for his place in their lives.  That, too, is an example for us of responding positively to whatever we find God doing in our lives.

For the shepherds, life after Jesus’ birth surely wasn’t all glory.  The sheep were still apt to wander and to be threatened by wild beasts and robbers, they still smelled, they still demanded a lot of attention at birthing and shearing times; and shepherds remained on the one of the lower rungs of Jewish society, looked down upon by all the “respectable” people.  Yet these men, and perhaps their families, glorified and praised God.  So for us, when life isn’t all peaches and cream—was it ever?—still we are called to respond to God with praise.  That’s who we are as disciples of Jesus—people who praise God.
Gabriel names the child whom Mary will bear.
Holy Name of Jesus Church, N.R.

After all, this child is Jesus:  Yahweh saves!  So the angel named him when he came to Mary (1:31), so Joseph and Mary named him on the 8th day (2:21), and so he is—for us a Savior (cf. 2:11).  More than enuf reason to give glory to God.

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