Christmas by Way of Mary
by Fr. Rufus Pereira
There can be no better way to celebrate Christmas than to consider that "pilgrimage of faith in which the Blessed Virgin advanced, faithfully preserving her union with Christ" (Mother of the Redeemer 5). Together with Mary let us take this pilgrimage of faith by re-examining the Infancy Narratives given in Luke's Gospel.
Mary hears and accepts the Good News (Lk 1:26-38): Luke begins his Gospel by presenting Mary as 'Highly favoured of God' and 'Blessed … among women' (1:28,30), for she is the first one to hear the Good News. She would have an altogether unique role to play in the fulfillment of God's plan, for she would conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit and bring forth Jesus, the Son of God (1:31,35). Through her response, "Behold the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your Word" (1:38), Mary also becomes the first person to accept and to obey the Good News, thus anticipating in herself in a unique way the essential characteristic of a disciple of Christ: "Be doers of the Word, and not hearers only" (James 1:22). Although she has been given a sign (1:36-37), she was a 'believer' for whom God's Word was sufficient. This was the first step in her journey of faith.
Mary is declared blessed because she believed God's Word (1:42,45): Mary, always the obedient maidservant of the Lord (1:38), then goes with all haste to the house of Zacharias and greets Elizabeth (1:39-40), who in her turn through the power of the Holy Spirit loudly proclaims: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (1:42). Because she has conceived a son like Jesus, Mary is hailed as the most blessed woman that ever was. But Elizabeth makes it absolutely clear why Mary is blessed through the blessedness of Jesus her Son, "Blessed is she who believed, for there will be a fulfillment of those things which were told her from the Lord" (1:45). She is already blessed because of her obedience to the Word of God (1:38), and not just because, as Elizabeth now realizes, she is now 'the mother of my Lord' (1:43). The first person to be called blessed in the Gospel was thus appropriately the first person to believe in the promise of the Lord and so open herself to its fulfillment in her life. Mary's response of faith to God's call and choice is the essence of Christian discipleship.
All generations will call Mary Blessed (1:45-55): In response to Elizabeth's blessing, Mary herself prophesizes, "For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed" (1:48). But, what is so distinctive of a Christian disciple, Mary does not so much accept Elizabeth's and all future generations' blessings as a credit to her faith as much as a tribute to God's power, holiness and mercy (1: 49,50). In doing so she is in fact, as a representative of the anawin of Israel, anticipating the proclamation of the Good News by Jesus in the Beatitudes of the Sermon of the Mount (Mt 5:2-12), and prophesizing its actualization in the Jerusalem community (Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-37).
Mary ponders the Good News given by the angel (2:19): Nine months later -Luke gives us three reactions or responses to the 'good tidings of great joy' brought by the angel (2:10). While the shepherds 'made widely known the saying' (2:17) and 'returned, glorifying and praising God' (2:20), … and while 'all those who heard it marveled' (2:18), "But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart" (2:19), signifying that she treasured the words and incidents connected with Jesus' birth, wanting to know their deeper meaning.
Mary receives the Good News as the Sword of the Spirit (2:35a): When forty days later Joseph and Mary brought the Child Jesus to be presented in the Temple (2:22), they marveled, Luke says, at the consoling prophesy that Simeon made about the Child in his prayer of blessing to God (2:33). But Luke does not tell us about their reaction to Simeon's disturbing prophesy, "Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against … that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed" (2:34,35b), much less about Mary's response to his direct prophecy to her, "Yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also" (2:35a, cfr Heb 4:12). But she would have understood that she too, as part of Israel, would be judged by her final response to the Child who will the occasion of the fall and rising of people, even of Israel, depending on their attitude to Jesus. For obedience to the Word of God would not be a once for all act (1:38.45), but an ongoing attitude tested through trials and perils. Mary would thus have to go through the test of discipleship, but would come through successfully, unlike Peter who could not hold fast to the Word of God in the face of diabolic opposition (22:32-34).
Mary does not understand the Word but keeps it in her heart (2:48-51): Twelve years later, after three days of searching for their lost son, Mary and Joseph were amazed at seeing Jesus calmly sitting amidst the teachers of the Law in the Temple, apparently oblivious of their anxiety and concern for him (2:46,48). Jesus' answer to his mother's reproach seems to be full of surprise and even pain that his parents have still not known him well enough. When he ostensibly reveals to them his true identity and affirms the priority of his relationship with his heavenly Father over that with his earthly parents (2:40), "they did not understand the statement which he spoke to them' (2:50), which may seem to be surprising, on Mary's part at least, after twelve years of reflection on the previous revelations of her son's identity (1:31-35; 2:11,17-18). Mary must now be realizing the full import of Simeon's prophecy uttered twelve years before (2:35a).
And so the final reaction of the parents in the infancy narrative seems to be similar to that of the disciples after the third Passion prediction, "But they understood none of these things" (18:24). Unlike the disciples, however, "His mother kept all these things in her heart" (2:50). As she did twelve years before, she retained now also the disturbing words that had puzzled her, but she continued to search for their true and deeper meaning (2:19), in apparent contrast with Jesus 'growing in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man' (2:52). Mary's attitude, therefore, of acceptance and obedience and waiting, throughout the infancy narrative, are for us a model preparation for Christmas.
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Led by the Spirit reproduced with permission from Charisindia. Copyright © 2004 Fr. Rufus Pereira. All rights reserved. Images copyright Anne Geddes