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Homily on Mary of Nazareth

 

Henry Ossawa Tanner: The Annunciation.

It really is amazing, that this young girl, Mary, should respond in such a remarkable way to the appearance of an Angel. This angel claims to be God’s messenger, bringing her news that she will give birth to a child who is the son of God and the inheritor of the throne of David, whose kingdom will last for all eternity.

 

Yet Mary responds in a fashion which probably puts most of us to shame. “May it be to me as you have said.”  A simple response of faith.

 

What do we know about this young girl who makes such an incredible response to this momentous declaration given by an angel? What can we say about this young woman who is arguably history’s most venerated mother.

Though Mary plays a key role in the birth stories of Matthew and Luke, she is scarcely mentioned in the other two Gospels and not at all in the New Testament letters.

During her childhood she lived in Nazareth where she was put into an arranged marriage with the carpenter Joseph. Gospel references begin when she was a little over 12 years old. Luke reported that while Mary was living with her parents in Nazareth, not yet fully married to Joseph an angel visited and told her she would give birth to a holy child who would be called “the Son of God.” Being pregnant out of wedlock was dangerous, Mary might even be stoned to death.

Christian tradition asserted that Mary was a virgin all of her life.  Early church leaders such as Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria believed Mary remained a virgin, and Athanasius wrote extensively on the “ever virgin” Mary.

The Gospel accounts record that Jesus had brothers and sisters, but Roman Catholics, following the lead of many early church leaders, argue they were Jesus’ cousins or Joseph’s children from a previous marriage. Protestants have taught Mary was a virgin only until the birth of Jesus, after which she and Joseph conceived James, Joses, Judas, Simon, and unnamed daughters.
Mary was present at  Jesus’ crucifixion  and at the Day of Pentecost, but then she disappears from history. One tradition says she lived in Jerusalem until she died, in A.D. 48, at about age 66. Another says she moved to Ephesus. Still another, asserted by Gregory of Tours (d. 593) based on earlier apocryphal writings, says that when she died, her body was “borne on a cloud into paradise, where it was reunited with her soul and now rejoices with the elect.”

Mary may have died not long after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even if she was very young when she gave birth to Jesus she would have been in her forties, at the youngest, at this stage, which is already very good by ancient life expectancy, especially for a woman who’s given birth.

Mary slowly grew in importance to early Christians; at first she was considered the new Eve. By the fourth century, she was given the title  “theotokos” the “God bearer,” and was increasingly seen as a compassionate intercessor to whom believers could pray.

By the Middle Ages, English historian Eadmer taught that Mary was herself conceived without original sin. This belief, along with that of her “Assumption” (rise to heaven) grew to such an extent in Roman Catholic circles that today they are part of that church’s official doctrine.

Today, many people (not just Roman Catholics and Orthodox) claim to experience visions of Mary, and she remains an important object of devotion for millions.

As we stand now on the edge of Christmas Day – I hardly think it is of the most vital importance to have a protracted debate about what we call the immaculate conception..

For me the momentous fact is that Mary, the God-bearer, said Yes at all. The fact is, and we tend to forget it – Mary was perplexed by the appearance of the angel – who wouldn’t have been? The Greek word means deeply agitated – she was taken aback, troubled, anxious – all perfectly natural. Not only because  an angel had spoken to her – but the message was going to be hard to explain to others.

But she says YES  “ Let it be to me according to your word” – despite all the angst and confusion.

There are many ways to find a spiritual path towards the manger scene these nativity days.  Maybe remembering especially Mary’s YES – despite her shock and anxiety and agitation can help us to be always ready to say YES  to God – whether our path be easy or  one that is full of uncertainty and twists and turns.  As we think of Mary saying that powerful and momentous YES to God – it can remind us too of the momentous YES which Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane 30 years or so later.

This Christmas, may our response to God’s calling be a response of faith and obedience. May we worship the newborn Saviour with open hands and open hearts, ready to embrace Him as our Lord and Saviour, ready to accept God’s calling to new possibilities of living in faith and obedience.

Heavenly father,

We reflect this Christmas upon our hopes and dreams

Both for ourselves , for those we love and for the world

May the reality of your coming to earth

Be far more than a distant dream

But a truth that changes our lives day by day as we say YES to you.

This we pray through Jesus Christ Our Lord.

December 19, 2011 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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