Gospel Reflection for Feast of Mary Mother of God, January 1st 2023 By Fr Brian Maher OMI
Sunday January 1st 2023, Feast of Mary Mother of God
Just like everything in life, another Christmas has come, and it is now almost gone. All the weeks of planning and buying presents; all the days of food and table preparation, all the welcoming of family and friends, the eating and drinking, the exchange of gifts, the look of wonder in your child’s eyes when Santa has come, are over for another year. Shortly, the decorations will be back in the attic, the tree will be folded or discarded and, maybe, the small crib figures will be put carefully back in their box to await next year, when it will all happen again.
There is a problem with this, and it is not just tiredness or the usual sense of anti-climax which accompanies the end of something we have looked forward to for a long time. No, the problem is that as we move on, we think of Christmas as something that is now over, gone, in the past. If we do this, we miss the entire point of the Christian celebration of Christmas.
So many of us, I believe, never truly experience the awe and wonder of what happened in Bethlehem, because every year, at this time, we put this wonder and awe in the attic with the decorations and lights. Yes, an event did happen in Bethlehem two thousand years ago which is recorded for us in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and explained to us in its fullest way in the Gospel of John. And yes, that event of history is in the past, but….and it is a very important but, the child born in that stable, is not a human person come and gone, but God, still with us!
Christmas, for Christians, is not and can never be, something which happened and is over.
Christmas did not happen; it happens every day, again and again, in our world and in our lives when we open our hearts to it. We read it in the Gospels of Advent and Christmas; Jesus is ‘Emmanuel’, the Messiah promised by the Prophet Isaiah, a name which means ‘God-is-with-us’.
Notice, it is not past tense. It is not ‘God-was-with us’ and is now gone back to the Father, but ‘God-is-with-us’ and will always be with us. This is the meaning of the Incarnation, and it is what we are now celebrating. The child we look at in the crib will grow and become a man, he will heal and forgive and repeatedly tell us how much God loves us. He will be betrayed, tortured, put to a cruel death and on the third day he will Rise from the Dead (I give the words ‘rise’ and ‘dead’ capital letters to show how important they are). A short while later he will say, “Fear not, I am with you always, even to the end of time”.
What a waste it would have been if angels shook the Heavens proclaiming the glory of God if that glory was only for thirty-three years. What a wasted journey the ‘wise-men’ took, and what a waste of money their expensive gifts were, if it ended on a cross of shame. What a waste of St Pauls undoubted intellect, and what a lost life he lived if it ended in misguided martyrdom. All of them, the Apostles, saints and martyrs, men and women, our parents, grandparents, and ancestors; what a waste if their faith was only based on one short life. No matter how great Jesus was, and no matter how much good he did in his life, it was wasted if he died on the Cross of Calvary.
The entire meaning of the Gospels, from start to finish, is that the child born in Bethlehem, still lives and is still ‘God-with-us’. Christmas is the beginning of a story, of a journey, which is still unfolding. We – each of us, no matter how weak or ‘little’ we might feel – are an important, even essential, part of this unfolding story.
In Laudato Si, Pope Francis says exactly this in a beautiful way:
“We were conceived in the heart of God,
and for this reason each of us is the result of a thought of God.
Each of us is willed, each of us is loved, each of us is necessary.” (Laudato Si, 65)
Christmas is why we Christians must never be a people without hope. We must not speak to others as if we are without hope. Indeed, we must train ourselves to not even think as if we are without hope.
Hopelessness is not allowed to Christians! We are in this world as a people of hope, and we cannot, no matter how awful things might seem to be, be anything else.
Once again, let me quote Pope Francis, who says it so much better than I can. In his first publication in 2013, in The Joy of the Gospel, he says:
“However dark things are, goodness always re-emerges and spreads. Each day in our world beauty is born anew, it rises transformed through the storms of history.” (The Joy of the Gospel, 276)
At the start of each Eucharist we ask forgiveness for “the things we have done, and the things we have failed to do…” In the light of what God did for us at Christmas, surely we must include, “for the times I have spoken as a person without hope, and for the times I have failed to be a witness to hope”?
Today we celebrate the great Feast of ‘Mary, the Mother of God’. Like all of the Feasts of Mary, ‘Mother of God’ is an honour the Church bestows on her. But it is more than that. It is also the reality of the Annunciation and of that moment when, little more than a child, she said her “Yes” to God. She did not know what would happen in the future, she did not even know what was happening to her, but in trust and humility she said “Yes.”
That was the start of her journey, and a short time later, her ‘Yes’ was joined with Joseph’s ‘Yes’. It brought them, after nine months, to Bethlehem and to the birth of their son, Jesus.
If I say that Mary herself did not understand or fully know that she was ‘Mother of God’, don’t be shocked or upset. When I say today, with all I have read and been taught about this Feast, that I still do not understand or fully know what it means, please believe me.
“Mary, Mother of God” is something we must say to ourselves in awe and wonder, over and over again. Mary herself, as the Gospel of today tells us, treasured all the things that happened to her, “…and pondered them in her heart.” For her, it must have been a life of pondering; a life filled with times of loneliness and doubt, but also filled with times of joy and delight. However, always, I think, her pondering was filled with hope and trust.
I can say of Mary what I said of everyone involved in the Christmas story; what a waste it will have been if all of Mary’s greatness and her life of pondering, was only for a short and troubled thirty-three years.
Mary’s story is our story. The child she brought into the world is still in the world. The Christmas story, Mary’s story, is not a story of the past but of the present.
Let me finish with a tiny suggestion. When you are putting away the things of Christmas this year, take one small token of the celebration (a card, a bauble from the tree, a figure from the crib…), and leave it in a ‘hidden’ place where only you will notice it. Then, during the year, every time you see it, let it remind you that Christmas is not a story of the past, but of the present. Let it remind you that the joy and hope of Christmas did not happen; it is happening, today and every day, and will happen until the end of time.
Let us carry that ‘Hope’ into 2023, because we can, and we must. Christmas gives us no other option. In the words of Eucharistic Prayer 2, … “The Spirit of God, like the dewfall (gentle and unseen), is falling on our world and on all the gifts God has given us.”
Have a happy, peaceful, and gentle New Year.
If you have any comments, questions or thoughts on this scripture reflection, please feel welcome to email me at email@example.com
|Gospel||Sunday January 1st 2023, Feast of Mary Mother of God Luke 2:16-21 ©|
The shepherds hurried to Bethlehem and found the baby lying in the manger
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