Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God: Starting the New Year with Mary

Vladimir-Theotokos-Icon

Happy New Year, 2019!

We, Filipinos, have a lot of superstitious beliefs and unusual practices to welcome the New Year. Foremost among these are the lighting of fireworks and making loud noises which we believe is meant to drive away the evil spirits. As kids we were encouraged to jump as high as we can when the clock hits 12 on New Year’s eve, because of the belief that it will help us grow taller. I have jumped every new year’s eve that I can remember since I was kid, but it ain’t true, never happened. We also believe that placing 12 different kinds of round-shaped fruits (grapes, oranges and watermelon) on the table during New Year’s eve will bring good fortune for the coming year. On the morning of New Year many wear clothing with polka dots as many believe they symbolize prosperity in the upcoming year.

I noticed, however, that on New Year, nobody greets merry Christmas anymore. Many think that with New Year, Christmas is over. Not for the church. New Year always fall on the 8th day or octave of Christmas. New Year is very much a part of Christmas. In fact, it is right at the middle of Christmas. We are still very much in the Christmas season which will last until the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord on the 2nd Sunday of January.

The 8th day of Christmas is specially dedicated as a feast of Mary as Mother of God.  It was in 431 AD, 400 years after the birth of the church, that the Council of Ephesus solemnly proclaimed Mary as Mother of God, in the original Greek word, Theotokos which means “God-bearer.” The motherhood of Mary is very much at the heart of Christmas. As we have mentioned last Christmas midnight mass, Mary’s fiat (yes) to be the mother of God was a turning point in the Christmas story. The turning point involved the incarnation as God’s coming down from heaven to become human and Mary’s yes which represents humanity’s aspiration of going up to God. Mary’s yes is the prototype of humanity’s yes, or more precisely, Mary’s yes represents humanity’s yes par excellence.

Through this celebration, we are invited by the church to learn Mary.  In the midst of the different rituals and practices that the world offers for the New Year, the church offers Mary as a fresh approach to beginning the New Year.

What can we learn from Mary as we begin the New Year?

First, like Mary as theotokos, we are called to be God-bearers. In Christmas, we celebrate the incarnation of God in each one of us. God identified with all our experiences –our joys and hopes, griefs and anxieties. As we begin the New Year, we feel renewed and strengthened that God is with us and accompanies us to a new beginning. Like Mary, as we begin the New Year, we bear God in our lives every step of the way. The challenge for us is to nurture and sustain God’s incarnation all throughout the New Year by our trust and confidence in Christ who dwells in us. By our firm confidence in the Emmanuel we will show others to Christ who is also dwelling in their own lives.

Second, like Mary, we are called to ponder the Good News of Christ dwelling in us and being completely open to its bearing in our lives. In the Gospel today, we read how Mary incessantly pondered on the birth of Jesus throughout her whole life.

And Mary kept all these things,
reflecting on them in her heart.

In the gospel of Luke, Mary represents the ideal believer, for she hears the good news and ponders it in her heart, and fully responds to it. Her heart becomes the place of discovering Jesus, who he truly is. Mary’s entire life focused on that process of pondering who that child now born to us really is. We make a major mistake if we think that from the moment of the Annunciation Mary completely knew, or understood, the full significance of her Son. Mary pondered on who that child would be from her “Yes” at the Annunciation.

I am reminded of a Christmas song which expresses the genuine questions and feelings of Mary about the birth of Jesus. The song is “Mary, Did You Know?” The song has become a modern Christmas classic, being recorded by many artists over the years across multiple genres. It may be helpful to reflect on the lyrics of the song:

Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day walk on water?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy has come to make you new?
This child that you’ve delivered, will soon deliver you

Mary did you know that your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby, you have kissed the face of God

Mary did you know, Mary did you know, Mary did you know

The blind will see, the deaf will hear and the dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak, the praises of the lamb

Mary did you know that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?
Mary did you know that your baby boy will one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?
This sleeping child you’re holding is the great I am

Mary did you know, Mary did you know, Mary did you know

Mary spent her life pondering the visible Word of God that was and is her Son. Human as she is, just like each one of us, she had questions and did not fully comprehend the mission of Jesus.  This did not, however, deter her to continuously learn and open herself to the wonders and challenges of Jesus’ mission. She grew in knowing him, in comprehending the mystery of God Incarnate.

As Mary pondered that visible Word, as we begin this New Year, we too are called to continuously ponder the incarnation of Jesus in our lives. In spite of the many obstacles and problems we have to hurdle, like Mary let us become open to the mystery and wonder of Jesus’ incarnation.  Despite all the evil, terror, uncertainty and crisis prevailing in our country today, let us not lose that sense of wonder, that sense of hope, that sense of goodness, that sense of life.  Like Mary we cannot afford to be passive, cynical or fatalistic about this coming year because Jesus is our guide and strength.

As we begin this New Year may we rest our hands on the hand of Mary, Our Mother of Perpetual Help that she will lead us to her Divine Son, Jesus; that she will bring us closer to Jesus, and to all whom Jesus loves—the oppressed, the afflicted, the marginalized, and the Poor of Yahweh.

I end with the Aaronic blessing from the Book of Numbers in the first reading today:

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!

Through the prayers of Mary may we be blessed and be a blessing this New Year 2019!

Advertisements

6th Simbang Gabi – December 21: Visitation – Mary as God-Bearer

The Visitation, James B. Janknegt, 2008
The Visitation, James B. Janknegt, 2008

We are now on our 6th Simbang Gabi or, as I call it, Christmas academy. I hope our reflections in this Christmas academy continue to deepen your understanding of the meaning of the incarnation of Jesus–the original event of Christmas.

We continue the gospel reading from Luke, picking up from yesterday’s text. As soon as the Archangel departed from Nazareth, Mary made plans to leave. Although she was still a young teenage girl, she “went with haste” to take care of her elderly kinswoman, Elizabeth, who was pregnant for the first time.

Notice, however, that the Angel didn’t command Mary to go to help her. He didn’t even suggest that it would be a good thing for her to go. He just stated the fact that Elizabeth was pregnant and that was enough for Mary to spring into action.

The journey that Mary took to reach Elizabeth was a long and arduous journey. She took off from Nazareth, a Galilean city west of the Sea of Galilee and travelled to Ein Karem, the Judean village where Elizabeth and Zechariah lived. This covers a distance of between 128 and 160 kilometers. Luke does not mention whether Mary made any preparations for the trip or how she traveled. She may have gone on foot or as part of a caravan. We don’t know if she traveled alone or whether St. Joseph accompanied her, or SS. Anne or Joachim.  In Mary’s day, a person traveling by foot could cover about 32 kilometers per day. If Mary walked to Elizabeth’s home, it would have taken her four to five days. If she accompanied a caravan, she would have arrived in about three days.

map-journey-visitation

Such a journey would have been dangerous, especially for a young girl alone. Mary demonstrated her courage as well as her desire for confirmation of God’s plan. She overcome any fear she may have had about surrendering to God’s call on her life or facing the possible danger involved in confirming his will. Such complete surrender freed her to act in confidence.

As soon as Mary arrived and Elizabeth heard the sound of Mary’s greeting, very likely “shalom,” three things happened: John the Baptist leaped in her womb, Elizabeth herself was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she burst out saying:

“Blessed are you among women,
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me?
And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment
of what was spoken to her by the Lord.”

Mary was able to bring incredible joy to Elizabeth and to the fetal John the Baptist, because she was bringing Christ.  The Holy Spirit inspired Elizabeth to bless Mary among all women because of the blessed fruit of her womb and because of her faith that the Lord’s words to her would be fulfilled. In other words, she was blessed because of Jesus and because of her faith in her embryonic saviour and son.

In going to Ein Karim, Mary became the first missionary, the first bearer of the Good News. Despite being pregnant with Jesus, the word incarnate (logos), in her womb, she journeys through the hill country to the town of Juda. English theologian John Saward refers to this image of Mary on her journey to Elizabeth as the “Logos carrying Virgin.”[1] In this journey, Mary became the first disciple and missionary of the Logos (Word). Indeed she is the Theotokos—bearer of God in our world.

What is this story telling us about Christmas?

Christmas is not just a celebration but also a call to mission. The incarnation of Jesus overflows with life, joy and goodness that it cannot be kept just to ourselves and only at this time of the year. It has to be lived, shared and proclaimed to others, to the whole world, throughout the year. Like Mary, we are all called to be Theotokos—God-bearers. We need to share the good news of Emmanuel, God is with us, not just with our lips but also with our feet, with all our heart and soul.

The Christmas story continues … Abangan ang susunod na kabanata, bukas! (watch out for the next chapter tomorrow). Mary, filled with the Spirit, will soon break out into that wonderful hymn of praise that we call the Magnificat, a hymn that will proclaim the message of liberation Jesus will later deliver by word and action. We will see this tomorrow.

 

Here is the schedule of Simbang Gabi at the Baclaran Shrine (Philippine Time). All Simbang Gabi masses at the shrine, both evening and early morning, are streamed live. Click this link to watch and listen to the Simbang Gabi at the shrine.

simbang-gabi-2018


 

[1] John Saward, Redeemer in the Womb: Jesus Living in Mary (San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press, 1993), 120.