1 January 2017: Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God

Reading 1 Response Reading 2 Gospel
Nm 6:22-27 Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8 Gal 4:4-7 Lk 2:16-21


Mary: Mother of God, Theotokos, disciple

White_gold_banner_sm As part of Christmastime celebrations, the believing community celebrates the feast of Mary, the mother of God. This feast is intimately connected to Christmas and the incarnation mystery: Jesus, while remaining fully God, through Mary, became fully human.

In the first reading from the book of Numbers, God tells Moses how Aaron the priest should bless the people in God’s name. The Lectionary editors chose this reading to show that God continues to bless God’s people in Jesus’ circumcision and naming.

In the second reading Paul tells the Galatians that Jesus is fully human (“born of a woman”) and an observant, circumcised Jew (“born under the law”). Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have been redeemed (“ransomed”) and, through baptism, God has adopted us. As children, we can call out to God as our Father.

In the gospel, Luke describes how Mary’s thoughts and actions lead to discipleship:

  • Mary’s thoughts. Luke tells us, “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Luke uses the Greek word συμβάλλω (soom-BAHL-loh) meaning “to consider” or “to ponder.” The Hebrew scripture uses the same word to describe Jacob pondering the meaning of Joseph’s dreams (Gen 37:11) and Nebuchadnezzar reflecting on Daniel’s advice about the king’s dreams (Dan 4:28-30). Like these Old Testament figures, Mary does not fully understand the revelations and messages she receives–the angel’s announcement (Lk 1:28-33), Elizabeth’s greeting (Lk 1:42-45), and the shepherds’ visit (Lk 2:15-17). Mary–like all disciples, including us–comes to understand Jesus’ identity only by reflecting on his ministry and his suffering, death, and resurrection.
  • Mary’s actions. Luke says, “When the time arrived for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel.” In Mosaic law, circumcision is the covenantal sign that incorporates Jewish males into the people of Israel (Gen 17:1-12). Mary and Joseph’s action–following the law–makes Jesus part of the people of Israel. The angel (God’s messenger) told Mary to name the child Jesus, meaning “YHWH saves.” Mary and Joseph’s action–following the angel’s command–marks Jesus as God incarnate to remind everyone that God continues to bless the chosen people in God’s own name. Mary–like all disciples, including us–shows trust in God’s promise only by faith-in-action.

Today’s feast commemorates Mary as the Theotokos. The Greek word θεοτόκος (theh-oh-TOH-kos) means “God-bearer,” one of Mary’s oldest titles, found in Origen’s and Dionysius of Alexandria’s writings (around 250 AD). The Third Ecumenical Council (431 AD) formally affirmed Mary as Theotokos and the “Mother of God.” The council ruling emphasized that in his incarnation Jesus was both fully human and fully divine: Mary provided Jesus’ human nature while Jesus retained the eternal and divine nature of God. Theotokos, and all Mary’s titles, always lead us back to Christ: who he is, his incarnation, his life, his teachings, his transformative death and resurrection, and his continuing presence.

—Terence Sherlock

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