There are two things that a seasoned pastor, particularly of a large parish, does not look forward to: Christmas falling on a Sunday because you generally loose a Sunday collection! And, Christmas falling on a Monday because after celebrating all those masses for the Fourth Sunday of Advent, you turn around and in a matter of a few hours, begin celebrating masses for Christmas Eve! Well, folks, it’s that latter situation that we have before us this year.
With the great feast of Christmas occurring in just hours, it might be tempting for us to simply by-pass the rich meaning of God’s Word that we find in today’s celebration as we, like so many in our society and culture, rush forward to begin our Christmas rejoicing. Yet, that would be unfortunate. For, our Scriptures this morning offer a marvelous opportunity for us to reflect on a central person in the Christmas story, and that is, Mary, Mother of the Lord.
We Catholics, together with Christians of the East and a growing number of our Protestant sisters and brothers, hold Mary in high esteem and venerate her role in the History of Salvation. While the unfortunate caricature of the ill-informed have sometimes posited that we Catholics have ‘deified’ this woman, to the point of seeing her as more important than the Christ whom she bore, such nonsense could not be further from the truth.
Our true understanding, appreciation and veneration of this woman who was, indeed, ‘full of grace’ is anchored in the moving narrative story that the Church in her liturgy sets before us in today’s Gospel of Luke. St. Luke, unlike the other Synoptic Gospel authors, presents unique narratives that touch upon the infancy of the child Jesus. It is to Luke that we owe our gratitude for preserving the ancient oral traditions and stories that have endeared themselves to us during the Christmas Season. These stories begin with the dramatic encounter between Mary and the messenger of the Lord, the angel Gabriel. Surprised by grace, Mary is greeted by this mysterious messenger of the Holy One and invited to share in the pivotal moment in the transformation of all history.
The Church in her teaching never forgets that Mary was one like us in all things but sin. God did not force his will upon her but was paradoxically ‘dependent’ upon Mary’s freedom to say ‘yes’ to his invitation to bear his Son, through the ‘overshadowing’ of the Holy Spirit. With full human freedom, Mary’s ‘yes’ to the Father’s invitation would usher in the redemptive transformation of the cosmos that would be accomplished by her Son and Savior of the World.
So much of the meaning of this still point moment in the redemptive history of humanity is captured in the carols and songs that frame so beautifully the Christmas Season. The 19th century carol, Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day, sings of the moving significance of the Christmas story and the role that Mary, Mother of the Lord, continues to play as Mother of all believers in her Son.
Tomorrow shall be my dancing day;
I would my true love did so chance
To see the legend of my play,
To call my true love to my dance;
Sing, oh! my love, oh! my love, my love, my love,
This have I done for my true love.
Then was I born of a virgin pure,
Of her I took fleshly substance
Thus was I knit to man's nature
To call my true love to my dance.