Homily for 1 January 2016: Mary Mother of God
Eight days after the birth of Jesus, Mary and Joseph took him to be circumcised. So we hear the brief Gospel account of that read on the Octave Day of Christmas. But today the Church invites us to look beyond the event of the circumcision and naming of Jesus, for all its great significance. Rather, we are invited to contemplate the very mystery of the Incarnation, especially as expressed in the Divine Motherhood of Mary. Since the one born of her is truly God, then Mary is rightly and necessarily honoured with the title Mother of God. So I should like to step back now around nine months in time, and to the previous Chapter in St. Luke’s Gospel. There we find set out for us in poetic form Our Lady’s own response to the Incarnation.
Prompted by the spontaneous blessing of her cousin Elizabeth, our Lady turned to God with a hymn of praise, of joy, of thanksgiving, and of prophecy. Her Magnificat is extremely rich in scriptural allusion, for the coming of Christ was the fulfilment and culmination of salvation history, and Mary naturally wanted to gather it all up in her song. We do too, as we sing it with her, every single day, as the high point of our Evening Prayer at Vespers.
Today, in accordance with her own prophecy, and in accordance with Elizabeth’s inspired cry, we call Mary blessed. Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes - From this day forth all generations shall call me blessed. So our Lady shows that she’s well aware of her own pivotal role in world history, and in the lives of all the faithful; of all of us who through the ages will look to her, bless her, invoke her, praise her, love her. Why? Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est - For he who is mighty has done great things for me.
The title “Mighty One” is given many times in the Old Testament (cf. e.g. Is 1:24; 49:26; 60:16). For the Jews of old this especially referred to God’s acts of power in defeating their enemies; often wreaking terrible punishment and destruction through natural or man made disaster. But all that was only a sign. The definitive mighty deed of God is not of disaster, but of salvation. It occurred not with clamourous noise, but in silence. It was not, paradoxically, a deed of domination and violence, but of humility and apparent weakness. In this mighty deed, God stepped down into the world he had made. He gave himself to Mary, to us; he gave her, he gives us, Jesus. The Virginal Conception of Jesus bears witness that this was truly a mighty deed of power. But the Virginal Conception was only one aspect of God’s supremely great deed; this mighty act that was greater, more awesome, even than Creation itself. This great act of God that took place “in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4) was the mystery of our salvation in Christ.
Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est, et sanctum nomen eius - For he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. God’s name is holy: God himself is holy. God is utterly “other”; utterly remote from us, above us, beyond us in his inaccessible divinity; clothed in glory before which even the Seraphim veil their faces (Is 6:2). Our Blessed Lady affirms this, rejoices in it, precisely as she affirms also that God has come close to us in Jesus. The All Holy One has become one of us, given himself to us and for us in our common humanity, in the fragility and vulnerability of our flesh, even to sharing our pain and mortality: so we can see him, hear him, touch him, know him, be with him; not indeed in such a way as to lose his holiness, but so as to draw us, without fear, to share it. And he did this in the first place for Mary, and for us through her. Her mediating role in that never can be, never will be, taken away from her, nor ever made somehow redundant.
Et misericordia eius in progenies et progenies - and his mercy is from age to age for those who fear him. Here is the answer to all those, whether Jews or Gentiles, who have ever cried My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why have you let my enemies triumph? Why have you allowed your own cause to be defeated? Why do you remain silent, doing nothing; refusing, it would seem, to answer my prayer?
Our Lady can identify completely with these cries, but now she sees, she understands, she knows their answer. And she tells us: actually, God is faithful, as he promised. He has not forgotten us; he will never forget or forsake us. But his ways are not our ways, not his thoughts our thoughts (Is 55:7). His mercy is not less than we had thought, or hoped for, or imagined, but far far greater. It endures from the beginning of the world to the end of time - quoniam in aeternum misericordia eius as the Psalmist sang (Ps 135/6:1): for his merciful love, his steadfast fidelity, his compassion and truth to his word- his Hesed - his eleos - endures forever.
God’s mercy touches all of us in principle, and each us in particular. For in Christ, God has entered and redeemed our nature as such. Through his Word made flesh, God has spoken to us: and his message is of mercy, and the good news of salvation.
Just in case we’re tempted to think that’s all a bit abstract, or theoretical, or general, our Lady shows just how personal it is for her, and so for me. Mary teaches us in the Magnificat to use the personal pronoun without hesitation. God is my Saviour; he has looked at me, they will bless me; he has done great things for me. And so: Magnificat anima mea Dominum - with my whole being, my whole life, my whole self, my whole soul, I magnify the Lord, I lift him up before the world in joy, I extol him, I proclaim his greatness and goodness, I praise him and sing to him and of him with joy.
Yes, looking out into the world around I see darkness. But a light is shining in that darkness; the light of Christ, and that is enough for me. All is manifestly not well with our world; but today God has announced the reversal of all wrongs; the establishment of justice; liberation from the power of sin and evil; the abolition of the devil’s reign; the end of distress; the opening of heaven; the Revelation of Divine Love.
So today we pray that the Lord’s mercy will reach many who do not now know him; and we ask him especially for the gift of peace.