Yesterday the Church celebrated the Feast of Mary, the mother of God, and also observed a world day of prayer for peace. At one time we celebrated this day as the feast of the Circumcision of Jesus. While on the one hand it would seem that the Church doesn't quite know what to do with New Year's Day, a purely secular event, and tries to baptize it with a Christian feast, I think that there is something important to be celebrated on this day which is really the octave of Christmas. The Church, taking a page from Jewish custom, keeps all great feasts for 8 days. Right now Christmas and Easter both have octaves. I would hope that the Pentecost octave would be restored, but that is for another time.
The 8 day period, extending beyond to Epiphany, gives as the chance to reflect more deeply on the mystery of the Incarnation, a mystery which not only touches on our belief that God fully took on humanity in Jesus of Nazareth, but also that this mystery continues in the Church, the Body of Christ in the world. I think that we find the entry of the divine into the human too good to be true. It is interesting that the first major heresy in the life of the Church was not a denial of Jesus' divinity, but docetism, a denial of his humanity. St. Luke in his nativity account is giving us theology, not history. By including the circumcision of Jesus in that account he is not only telling us that Jesus observed all the requirements of Jewish law, but that indeed he was human in every way, indeed quite totally a male human being. John tells us that the Word became flesh, not that the word appeared to be fleshly or human.
The humanity/divinity of Jesus was debated strongly over the first centuries of the Church's life and the last declared doctrine relating to that came at the council of Ephesus in the fifth century in which Mary was declared to be the Mother of God, in other words the mother of the divinity as well as the humanity of Jesus. This is important not so much for what it says about Mary, but for what is says about God, that God desired to enter fully into humanity, into and through the body of a woman.
I believe that it is vitally important that we reflect on this mystery for we still find it hard to believe that God wishes to be one with creation, even in and through us who are the Body of Christ in the world. We need to say yes to that mystery, as Mary did. To the extent that we do that we will have a Church that is believable as the Body of Christ, and not one beset by scandal.
In 2 Cor: 4 St.Paul tells us that we carry a treasure in earthen vessels, and that we carry the dying and rising of Jesus in our bodies. Think about that. If we did would we mistreat our bodies in the way we do? Would we bounce between hedonism and prudishness in dealing with sexuality? Would we act violently in dealing with other human beings? Indeed on the world day of prayer for peace might we draw closer to peace in the world by respecting "every body", born and unborn, of whatever race, nationality or religion.
Peace to all people of good will!