Micah 5:1-4a; Romans 8:28-30; Matthew 1:1-23
Today, my brothers and sisters, the goodness of God cries out and mingles with the tears of a tiny infant girl. Today we celebrate a feast in which the angels rejoice and give praise to God. Today our own cries of gladness ascend to the Father who has looked down on our fallen race and prepared the earth for the seed of salvation. Today Mary was born, our life, our sweetness and our hope. Our life, for she has given us Life Itself. Our sweetness, for through her the tenderness of God has become human. Our hope, for in her Son, God has given us every good thing. Today Mary was born, whom God foreknew, predestined, called, justified and glorified.
Today we have read again the ancient prophesies of the one who is to give birth to the Ruler and Shepherd of God’s people. Today we are reminded of the story of the fall and the promise of the Savior.
And even now these prophesies are being fulfilled. For today Mary is born, who was to be the holy place, a heaven, a new earth, a dwelling place for the Son of God.
Today’s feast, as one of the Greek fathers (Andrew of Crete) tells us, “stands at the frontier where types and symbols and promises give way to reality and the old is replaced by the new. Today,” he continues, “this created world is raised to the dignity of a holy place for him who made all things. The creature is newly prepared to be a divine dwelling place for the Creator.”
But Mary’s singular grace is not meant for herself alone. She is the channel, the aqueduct, through whom the very Fountain of life reaches us with his saving waters. For when Jesus consecrated Mary, he consecrated all human life; he made it possible for all of us to be God-bearers, dwelling places in faith and love of his presence.
Is not this the secret longing, hidden deep within our hearts… to be Mothers of the Lord, to have Christ born in us, grow in us, to be our very life so that, with St Paul, to live means Christ? Is not this what He Himself desired by his coming, to set up his tent within us? He calls us to dwell in his love and to let his peace surround us, that his joy may be in us and all around us, that we may be wrapped forever in the garment of salvation and that our Maker may be our Spouse.
And how can we do this?
It seems to me that one of the most fruitful ways is to look lovingly at Mary, the Seat of Wisdom, and to learn from her, asking her help to understand and to do.
How did Mary become the dwelling place of God? The answer of the Scriptures and the Tradition is clear: through the gift of God. “Hail, O highly favored one, full of grace. The Lord is with you.”
Mary is, before all else, the one who receives the gift of God, who opens her arms and her heart to the saving power of God and lets it find an entrance and a dwelling place within her. “Fiat — let it be done to me according to your word.”
Back in the 60s, a novice, Paul Andrew Feeney, after he had left Mepkin, sent me an icon of our Lady. I really treasured it and mounted it on a cedar stump and have it in my room, my cell, to this day. I pray before it daily. Paul Andrew knew his theology well, and knew my own prayerful attitude toward Mary. And so this icon is painted within that tradition of Eastern iconography that whenever Mary is presented alone, she is usually portrayed standing and turned toward her Son, frequently with hands outstretched in an attitude of waiting, receptivity and acceptance. No better image can be found for growth in Christian life than this one. All, all is gift and we are the receivers of the mighty promises of God. We become dwelling places, like Mary, through God’s bounty.
This attitude of receptivity and acceptance is filled with those other great gifts of God: faith, hope and love. To be before God with open arms is to stand before him in faith. “Blessed is she who has believed.” Mary stood before God in hope and trusted that what he said would be fulfilled. And Mary loved much, opening her heart to the initiative of the love of God. Her open arms are a spontaneous stretching out to the joy that is coming to her, just as the outstretched arms of her Son on the Cross are the sign of the love of God for us and of the God-man’s love for the Father.
Today Mary is born, the chosen one of God. Let us continue to listen attentively to the prophesies that we hear today and let us, like our ancestors before us, see in today’s celebration “the frontier where the types and symbols and promises of the old give way to the reality of the new.” Let us strive to be like Mary, God-bearers, receiving with open arms the everlasting love that God is pouring into our hearts. Through the grace of today’s Eucharist may we become dwelling places for Christ, rooted in faith, hope and love.