DECEMBER 21, 2008 – LUKE 1:6-38
DO NOT FEAR, MARY, YOU WILL BEAR A SON AND HE WILL BE THE SON OF THE MOST HIGH. The words of today’s Gospel confront each of us with the astonishing marvel that ever remains the fundamental mystery of our Catholic faith. God himself becomes a human being in the person of his Son. He does so by the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit, who fertilizes the womb of the Mary so that she becomes a mother while remaining the Ever Virgin.
From the first, this account of Jesus’ birth has seemed to many to be sheer myth. Even many of those who accept the narrative of creation as true find this tale of the birth of the Savior to be an impossible demand on their mind. At the same time many others through the centuries down to our own days, accept this teaching as literally true and accurate. The first of such believers after Mary herself was Saint Joseph. Matthew informs us of the struggle he had when he first learned of Mary’s pregnancy. There are two ways of understanding the conflict he underwent at that time. Probably all of us today presume that he considered Mary had relations with some unknown man and so planned to break their engagement. Saint Bernard, to the contrary, showed a more refined appreciation of Joseph’s relation to Mary. Knowing her as he did, he did not suspect her of infidelity but rather presumed God had caused her to conceive and so his conflict arose from feeling unworthy of being partner to so holy a Virgin. He did not so much as question Mary herself, for that would suggest a suspicion he did not maintain. I suspect that most of us find at first such an explanation strained and even naïve. But on reflection it accords well with what we know of both Mary and of Joseph. In any case, Joseph’s hesitation was removed by an inspired dream in which an angel gave him assurance that by marrying Mary, whose pregnancy was due to the Holy Spirit, he would be cooperating with God’s plan of salvation.
As I see the Gospel account given here by Saint Luke the physician at the beginning of his version of Jesus’ life and ministry, and the version that Matthew supplies from Joseph’s perspective, all of us are invited to make a choice of faith. Are we confronted with a legendary explanation that is wholly fabricated by those who were convinced that Jesus’ claim to be equal to the Father was true; or did his conception take place literally as Luke and Matthew affirm, by a direct intervention of God, so that May is in all truth both Virgin and Mother?
From the earliest days of the Church serious men and women found no difficulty in placing their faith in the literal truth of this account of the Gospels. It seems to me no more demanding on our faith to accept such a direct intervention by God in human affairs and history than to believe that by his eternal Word he created the whole cosmos. And yet, when considered closely, the conception and birth of the Lord Jesus is more of a marvel than physical creation itself. For the Incarnation of the Son of God is the content of this belief. That the eternal God, in the person of his Son, took on our human nature that we might become like him by faith and loving obedience- this is the mystery of Christmas. This love offered to us at the price of our obedient faith is what we celebrate at this Eucharist as we prepare to ready our hearts that we might welcome the Son of God and Son of Mary at Christmas. G
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger