In my final installment about Christmas, I would like to address an issue which, unfortunately, divides Christians maybe more than any other: Mary.
Of course, she is, after Christ, the central figure in the Christmas story. It was her “Let it be done to my according to thy will” to the angel Gabriel that even allowed for the advent of Christ.
Think on that for a moment. A young girl is asked if she would consent to becoming pregnant with the Son of God, a girl who has just been betrothed to another man and knows, as any good Jewish girl would, that the fate of God’s chosen sons tends to be bleak.
But she said “yes” in total and complete faith in God’s plan and his goodness, and no doubt because she was willing to sacrifice her own needs for the greater good … well, really, it was THE greatest good of all.
And her “yes,” her assent to God’s request, changed humanity forever and undid the “no” of Eve. It undid Eve’s “no” so that the new Adam could be born to free us from the stain of Adam’s sin. But, this most momentous of acts, carried out — again — by a teenage girl, would not bring immediate glory to Mary, but instead tribulation and suffering.
When she is about to deliver, she is made to visit the hometown of her husband, Joseph, and then give birth in the cold among the livestock. A rather unimpressive way for the savior of humankind to be born, she must have thought, but she trusted anyway.
And then she went to the Temple to dedicate him, and Simeon, a wise and holy man, said that her heart “would be pierced by a sword,” which in some way confirmed the rather ominous fate for her newborn son and the suffering she would endure. And yet she had faith and trusted in God.
Then she was visited by the three magi from the East and given gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Myrrh was used in the ancient world to prepare bodies for burial, so these wise men are giving her a reminder of her son’s impending death. A rather strange baby present, to be sure.
She and Joseph are then told by an angel to flee to Egypt to escape the bloody persecution of the local king, who heard about the arrival of a baby messiah.
Now she has to leave her home with all these dire warnings hanging in the air. All male children under the age of 2 are then slain by the jealous, hateful king, a massacre that no doubt weighed heavily on the young mother’s heart.
And yet she trusted. She trusted God and stood by her son during the darkest of days, when all but one of his apostles had abandoned him. She was at the foot of the cross, looking at her tortured, dead son, no doubt remembering that fateful night 33 years ago, when an angel asked for her consent to be made the mother of the Son of God.
This absolute trust in God and devotion to her son at the expense of her own comfort and safety is why we Catholics venerate — not worship — this holy woman of God. Her love for Jesus and for God the Father, and her intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit all inspire us to imitate her ways, to emulate her and remind ourselves of what we can be if we truly trust in his ways.
An unthinkable burden was put on this young Jewish girl, maybe 15 or 16 years old, from a backwater town in a conquered distant territory of the Roman Empire. Mary, the mother of Jesus, the mother of God (by logic and by nature) not only accepted this burden, but transformed it into a song of love for God by her faithfulness and her actions.
Merry Christmas to Mary, our mother by virtue of being mother of our Lord.
Peachtree City, Ga.