MARY, MOTHER OF GOD
This gospel repeats the gospel
of the Dawn mass on Christmas Day and goes on
to cover the first week of Jesus’ life. The repetition
so soon might seem strange, but it reminds of
the need to stop and give even more thought to
what the birth of this child should mean for us.
The destination of the hurrying
shepherds is of course Bethlehem, whose name probably
means ‘the house of bread’. They find that the
extraordinary message of the extraordinary messenger,
the angel, is true, as described, and they astonish
everyone when they tell how they found out. For
their audience it may have been something of a
nine-day-wonder, lost in the return to day-to-day
living. For us Mary represents continuity, wondering
and teasing out what is involved. That will be
her role as the only one with a place in the rest
of the story, the faithful disciple. Even Joseph
is not mentioned again by name.
Mary is the one who guarantees
for us that God became man. She is Mother of God
because Jesus is one person in whom two natures,
divine and human, are united. She also guarantees
that the humanity of Jesus is real. Even she had
to stop and wonder about the unusual happenings
of the previous nine months and try to make sense
of it all. The way that God set about fulfilling
his promises was even more surprising to her than
to us, because we know how this child’s life was
to work out, whereas she had to live it out to
the bitter end, and beyond.
The origin of circumcision is
not clear. It was practised by other peoples in
the area, in Moab, Edom, Egypt and among some
nomad tribes in the deserts of Arabia. The Jews
alone saw it as a rite of initiation, and it was
so used throughout Old Testament times, as a sign
of belonging in Israel and of the covenant between
God and his People. To be uncircumcised was to
be disobedient to the Lord, and the ‘uncircumcised’
was a term of contempt applied to other peoples,
like the Philistines. Originally it was performed
by the child’s father eight days after birth.
With time it became a more skilled operation.
It would normally have been
the task of Joseph in the role of father to choose
the name for the child, but in this case the decision
had already been made. Jesus [Yešua] means ‘the
Lord saves’ or ‘the Lord is salvation’. For us
a name may be little more than a label, chosen
for its sound or for relationship reasons, etc.,
but in some mysterious way it becomes part of
the identity of the person. In earlier times the
name was chosen to indicate what sort of person
this was, what his reason for being might be.
If the person’s role in life changed, his name
could change: Abram became Abraham, Simon became
Peter. To use the name of God was to call in God
himself, with the result that the Jews never called
God by his personal name, and so forgot how to
pronounce it. The Vatican has called on Catholics
not to use this personal name [Yahweh], lest it
give offense to Jews today. God is ‘the Lord’.
• “Mary treasured all these things . . .” All
mothers treasure the infancy of their children
and keep all sorts of mementoes of various stages
of their development. In one way, having had
to flee to Egypt, maybe Mary retained less than
many. What might she have treasured most?
• Mary and Joseph were devout, practising Jews,
fulfilling the Law of Moses, and of course they
brought up Jesus to be the same. They set a
headline for us.
• As the Christian message spread among pagans
a problem arose about whether converts who had
been pagan should be circumcised. St Paul argued
that they need not be, which was accepted eventually
by the other apostles. The argument rumbled
on, however, because it was such a serious matter
for many Jews, being a sign of the covenant,
a sign of a man joining his life to that of
God. St Paul argued that this was brought about
by Baptism: that by Baptism the person, male
or female, becomes a member of the body of Christ
and through Christ is joined to Abba, the Father.
Do I feel such a personal sense of belonging
• At a Baptism, the first question the parents
are asked is: “What name do you give your child?”
It is by this name that the child is re-born
in Christ and is so called by the Father. Do
I believe that the Father knows me by name?
If I bear a saint’s name, might the saint be
somewhat chuffed to have someone called after
him/ her? After all, am I not pleased if that
happens to me?
• What about my use of the name of God? Or
the name of Jesus?