First Reading: Num 6:22-27; Psalm: 67. R. v. 2a; Second Reading: Gal 4:4-7; Gospel: Lk 2:16-21
BEGINNING THE YEAR WITH MARY, THE MOTHER OF GOD
BY FR VALENTINE NNAMDI EGBUONU, MSP
The birth of Christ marked a new beginning in the history of salvation. It brought to an end the old years marred by the sin of man. When God took flesh, his virgin mother became the Mother of God. Officially, the title “Mother of God” dates back to the Council of Ephesus in 431AD. At this council, the council fathers denounced the heresy of Nestorius the Archbishop of Constantinople who taught from the pulpit on Christmas day that Christ’s divine and human nature were separated. And that divinity only descended on Christ after birth. Hence, Nestorius argued that Mary should be called the “Mother of Christ” (Christokos) and not the “Mother of God” (Theotokos) for she gave birth to a human and not God.
The Council Fathers of Ephesus led by Bishop Cyril of Alexandria condemned this teaching of Nestorius as heretical and officially pronounced Mary the “God-Bearer” (Theotokos) before the council ended. In the history of the Church, the title “Mother of God” was celebrated as a feast on different dates. It was until 1974 that Pope Paul VI moved this feast to the first day of the calendar year to be celebrated as a Solemnity.
The Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God brings to the fore the role of Mary in the history of salvation. How Mary cooperated and participated in God’s plan to save the world from sin and death. Beginning the year with this celebration is very apt because it reminds us that the birth of Christ marked a new beginning in our lives. And to be fulfilled in each New Year, we would have to embrace God’s plan for us just as Mary did in fulfilling her mission as the Mother of God.
In the gospel reading of today, when the shepherds visited the baby Jesus and made known the saying which had been told them concerning the child, Mary pondered all these things in her heart. But what exactly was the saying that these shepherds disclosed which Mary pondered on? Before the visit of the shepherds, while they were tending their flock by night, an angel revealed to them that a Saviour who is Christ the Lord was born in the city of David. The angel also gave them a sign to identify this child. The child would be wrapped in swaddling cloths and laid in a manger (Lk 2:11-12). When the shepherds visited, they witnessed everything as was described by the angel. And Mary pondered their story in her heart.
The journey of Mary as Mother of God could best be described as a journey of faith. Things were not exactly clear to Mary when her life took a different turn at the annunciation message. Mary probably began to ponder, “What would become of me and Joseph?” “Who would believe my story?” “What is it about this child?” “How would it affect my life?” “How would all this end?”
But despite these uncertainties, Mary moved on trusting on God. And as the days went by, things began to fall in place. Joseph became convinced in a dream on Mary’s conception (Mt 1:20). Elizabeth confirmed the divine motherhood of Mary (Lk 1:43). Zachariah announced the coming of the Messiah (Lk 1:69, 76). The shepherds witnessed to the angel’s message on the birth of the saviour (Lk 1:17). And later on in the temple, Simeon would announce Christ as the salvation of the world (Lk 2:30-31). See how God beautifully connected the dots to confirm beyond all doubts the mystery of the Incarnation.
The journey of Mary as Mother of God was not all clear and rosy. It was full of ups and downs yet Mary pondered on them and trusted on God. As we begin a New Year today, some of us wished we knew what the year holds for us. We wish we could just capture the whole event of the year like the lens of a camera. But we can’t. And because of these uncertainties, we often pray that the New Year be better than the previous. To some of us, the year 2023 may not have ended well. And the New Year 2024 may probably have started with some bleak news. This can be despairing. But we can embrace the future with hope and trust in God.
I’m sure we also have some beautiful expectations piled up for this New Year. It is good to have expectations; but we should also be ready for some infractions of unplanned events. Some interruptors would always find their way into our lives. These interruptors may initially appear as setbacks but may actually be a vital cog in our wheel of progress. Interruptors such as sickness, failure, hardship, disappointment and even death. A priest once said:
“Sometimes, the meaning of a tragedy can be difficult to comprehend. But if one has faith, all things have meaning. I asked for strength and God gave me difficulties to make me strong. I asked for wisdom and God gave me problems to solve. I asked for courage and God gave me dangers to overcome. I asked for love and God gave troubled people to help. My prayers were answered.”
In this year 2024, we pray that blessings and good fortunes come our way. And that we may see the positives from the seemingly ill fortunes we may encounter. If Mary was joyful as the Mother of God, and was also able to see the salvation of the world in the tragedy of the cross; we ask her intercession for the grace of faith to also ponder on our own individual experiences this New Year; so as to be able to face what this year holds for us. But above all, we pray that this year brings us blessings and peace.
I therefore bless you today:
“May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May he make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you.
And may the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
Happy New Year!
PRAYER FOR THE DAY
Lord God, we thank you for the year 2023. We are grateful for the gift of the New Year 2024. May it bring us your blessings and protection; and may your grace strengthen us to handle the challenges that may come our way. Amen.