Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Holy Mary, Mother of God--Happy New Year--Shalom! Peace!

Madonna & Child by Rafael
   Happy New Year 2013 to everyone!  In the Church today is celebrated as the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God and also as a World Day of Prayer for Peace. Many of us grew up when the day was named the Feast of the Circumcision.  What are we celebrating anyway on this day?  Early on it was celebrated as the naming and circumcision of Jesus and this tradition still holds in some churches, notably among Lutherans.  It is the last day of the octave of Christmas as well.  There are then several layers of meaning for the feast.  So what's behind these various names? What do they all in the end have in common?

  In the year 1993 while on a study sabbatical I toured Israel and  Turkey with a Scripture Study group and had the privilege of celebrating Mass at the ruins of the ancient Basilica of Holy Mary in Ephesus where Mary was declared Mother of God at an ecumenical council held there in 431. There was a heated debate among the bishops, some of whom wanted follow Nestorius who separated the human and divine natures of Jesus and thus saw Mary only as the mother of the human nature of the Lord.  This view was not upheld and Mary was declared to be the "Theotokos", Greek for God Bearer or Mother of God.  The doctrine is really more about Jesus than about Mary.  It is saying that the mystery of the Incarnation means that the divinity and humanity of Jesus can never be separated and thus in bearing her child Mary was bearing Jesus who is true God and true man.

   Even today I think that many Christians think more like Nestorius. They allow the divinity of Jesus to trump his humanity, thinking that He must have been a little more divine than human.  This is understandable even if it is regrettable because it really is amazing to think that God became human given some of the awful things that we humans do.  This same affirmation of the humanity of Jesus is one of the reasons why the circumcision was celebrated.  In acknowledging this observance of Jewish law there is an affirmation of his sexuality. What could be more truly human than that? The circumcision was also seen as the first shedding of His blood and therefore the beginning of our redemption.

   And for us today what does all of this mean?  After the recent horrors that happened in Newtown, CT, with the terrible civil war raging in Syria, with all of the violence and lack of respect for life  that we see around us, our belief that God finds humanity so special that God chose to become one of us in Christ and continues to desire to dwell among us in so many ways ought to awaken us to a deeper respect for each other and for the world in which we live.  The mystery of the Incarnation that we celebrate throughout this Christmas season should tell us that if the Son of God entered into our history as one of us and breathed the air that we breath and walked on the soil of this planet then we are gifted with a great dignity, a dignity which we should then share with one another as well as on the earth which we inhabit.

   More that any laws that we might pass (and there are some that I think should be passed) our embracing of this great mystery of love, of God in human form, will heal our angry and often violent hearts and bring to the world the Peace that only He can give.

   Happy New Year everyone! Peace on Earth!



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