Scripture Readings: Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
The shepherds who “went in haste to Bethlehem,” as directed by the angel, can be understood as the whole human race seeking Jesus. The quick response of the shepherds to seek the new-born Lord is the origin and starting point, we might say, of that turning of the human race towards Jesus and something that will continue to the end of time. Monks are traditionally called “seekers of God,” but all men and women of good will are called to do likewise.
On the Octave day of Christmas, still rejoicing at the Nativity of the Savior, the Church has us recall in a special way Mary, the Mother of God. In Greek the word is Theotokos; literally, “she who gave birth to the One Who is God.” The Council of Ephesus proclaimed in 431 that Mary truly became the Mother of God by her human conception of the Son of God in her womb. Jesus is Mary’s only Son, according to the flesh, but her spiritual motherhood extends to all people of all times and places. Jesus came to save all and Mary is the Mother of us all.
The eyes of faith, which we are all to possess, can discover the mysterious reason why God in his saving plan wanted his son to be born of Mary, Ever-virgin. By his being born of the Virgin Mary, Jesus, the New Adam, ushers in the new birth of children adopted in the Holy Spirit through faith. Mary’s virginal motherhood is our hope of glory also, for in her Son we are redeemed.
Mary’s faith in what the Archangel Gabriel announced to her enabled her to become the mother of the Savior. As Saint Augustine of Hippo expressed this mystery: “Mary is more blessed because she embraces faith in Christ than because she conceives the flesh of Christ” (De virg., 3: PL 40,398).
Our Lady is both virgin and Mother, the Church proclaims, and as such Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of what it means to hear God’s word and put it into practice. From among all the descendants of Eve, God chose Mary of Nazareth to be the mother of his Son. She is “full of grace,” and the most excellent fruit of redemption in Christ, her Son and her Redeemer and also ours.
Mary remained a virgin in conceiving and bearing her Son, Jesus Christ. A virgin gave birth to the one who is God, and so with her whole being she is “the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). Mary cooperated through free will and obedience with God’s plan for the redemption of the human race. She spoke her fiat, “let it be done unto me,” in the name of the whole human race. Through this great mystery Mary has become the new Eve, that is, the Mother of all the living, which includes all of us. Because of this we greatly venerate the Mother of God.
The shepherds find everything in Bethlehem exactly as the angel had said, and what they see they begin to relate to others. The message cannot be hidden, that a Savior has been born. All who heard what the shepherds had to say had need of the message and Mary too, we are told, “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
The mention of various people at the birth of Jesus, including his mother Mary, indicates that the new order of salvation by means of the Incarnation had as one of its features the mutual assistance given by the community of faith. We also rely on others in our belonging to the community of the Church. Just as we receive benefit from belonging to the community of faith, so we are called to assist the Church by our good deeds and words. In modern parlance, belonging to Christ and his Church is not a “spectator sport,” but active participation is called for and expected.
The first reading for Mass is a wonderful blessing for the beginning of this new civil year 2024, which we also recount on this day: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”
To invoke God’s name upon us is also a confession of our faith in the nature and revelation of God as origin of our life and of our peace. As our God is compassionate and extends compassion to us, so must we be gracious, kind and peaceful to others.
The birth of the Messiah, which we continue to celebrate in this season, is the cause of our hope and joy, that we are redeemed in Christ and set free from the powers of sin and death. The Mother of the Redeemer, the Blessed Virgin Mary, is a powerful intercessor on our behalf, to know and do God’s will. May we be as docile as Mary in our whole-hearted yes, “fiat,” to God’s plan for our personal lives and for the entire Church to which we belong.
A Blessed and Happy New 2024 to All!
Abbot Christian Leisy, OSB