January 1 – Mary, Mother of God
We complete the feast of the birth of Christ by moving from the child in the manger to those around him. In particular, we are invited on today’s feast to focus on the woman, Mary. Part of the mystery of the birth of Jesus concerns what has happened to the woman who bore him. She, too, shares in the power of this birth. Today we acknowledge her by that ancient title, Mother of God, Theotokos, the “God Bearer.”
We also begin a new civil year. And at the head of that year, we place Mary, the mother of the child in the feeding box. Paul tells us that when the fullness of time came God sent his Son born of a woman, born under the law. Mary is part of the fullness of time. When the time was right, God acted. When the plan of God had reached a certain point it burst into an action, into a ‘happening.’ And that happening is what the shepherds came to see and what Mary keeps and reflects on in her heart. God chooses Mary of Nazareth to be the woman through whom his plan will be executed. Our celebration today is meant to be our reflection on Mary as the woman who symbolizes the fullness of time.
In Advent Mary was the pregnant woman. She is pregnant because she said yes to the word of God. Her womb grew larger and larger. But now, as we heard on Christmas night, the time had come for her to bring forth her first-born child and God’s son. A normal pregnancy reaches its own fullness of time. Something mysterious takes over in the rhythm of the woman’s body and the child is born. The plan of pregnancy reaches is fulfillment. It leads to the action of birth. St. Paul reminds the Galatian community that this simple and well known rhythm of a pregnant woman giving birth is nothing more than a sign of God’s action at this moment in time. Time has reached its climax. Time is pregnant and now has come the moment for it to deliver. The woman, Mary, delivers her child. Time delivers, God’s child, God’s Son, Mary’s child, Mary’s son.
In God’s plan, Mary stands at the moment when preparation and pregnancy reach their purpose. Mary stands at the dawn of the new age, the age when the child she bears will influence the rest of time. We are fond of saying that the coming of Jesus changes the world’s history. That is true. And that too is part of the mystery we celebrate today. What Mary offers us in her infant is a new beginning. The child she places in that feeding box is the child whose life will make it possible for us to continue to live in time. Everything about time will have as its reference point the child Mary holds in her lap and lets suck at her breasts.
January 1st as the beginning of the civil year is arbitrary, of course. Admittedly, it was decided on over 2,050 years ago by a Roman emperor, which doesn’t sound too arbitrary. Other times in the calendar have marked the beginning of the civil year. At one time it was March 25th, or the spring equinox. But now our new year continues to flow from the mystery of Christmas. And maybe this is a blessing for Christians who gather to celebrate the 8th day of Christmas. The year begins with our focus on the woman who has given birth to her child as she holds him up and directs our attention to him.
There is one particular aspect of Mary among others that is put forward for us today. As we look at the Christmas picture in the Gospel today, what is it that we notice about Mary? We see Mary in a stance of wonder and amazement at what is happening to her and around her. She is placed in our community as a woman engaged in keeping the mystery of God’s action close to her. She is the woman reflecting on the mystery in her heart; she is treasuring these things, savoring them. She is drawing out their meaning. In the story it is not Mary who goes about saying what wonderful things are happening here. That seems to be the shepherd’s task, they give praise and thanks; they talk, they are the evangelizers.
We begin the New Year with a picture of Mary as a woman at peace with what is happening to her. She has never made a claim to understand all that is happening at this fullness of time, but she is willing to be a part of it. She is willing to join in the peace that comes after childbirth. She is willing to take a moment to let the mystery sort of sink in. There is something of a contrast here with the usual New Year’s celebration. For several thousand years there has been a lot of shouting, drinking, big gatherings in Times Square and elsewhere. And let us not forget the firework displays throughout the world. But when we Christians gather on this first day of the New Year, what do we find in front of us? A woman in contemplation. In the midst of the noise of the world and even the noise of the shepherds who have come to see what the angels said, we find stillness. We behold a woman who ponders God’s ways in her life. Here we find a woman who has given her very flesh for what God is doing. She claims nothing as her own doing. Instead, she keeps “these things” in her heart. We find Mary at worship, of the God and Father who asked her to be the womb where the fullness of time gave birth; and in worship of the child in the manager, the child who will fill all time with meaning.
There is a tradition about making New Year’s resolutions. Whether it is part of our American culture’s New Years observance, I do not know. In any case, it is linked with the idea of a new beginning, of starting off the year again in new way. We can see it as a secular version of the promises we renew at Easter after trying to set the course of our lives right during Lent. But it is not a bad idea that after this winter mystery of the birth of this child, we too might make a resolution to put our lives in line with the fullness of God’s time. It might not be a bad idea for us to resolve to keep in our hearts the way God has brought along our lives so far. It would not be a bad thing for us to resolve to find again God’s word as the only food that really nourishes us. And like Mary simply sit in wonder at the message it has for us. New Year’s day is a day well spent in looking at the Word made flesh and simply allowing ourselves overwhelmed by its presence, by the life it signifies. And by the intimacy with God it promises in this life and in the life to come.