[Originally published Dec. 17, 2018]
And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:37)
With those words from Mary, the first Christmas was “on.” From that moment, God’s plan went into glorious effect for the celebration, nine months later, of His Son’s birthday. It was beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
No Mary, No Christmas
Mary’s “Yes” was incarnated in the Baby Jesus, in the flesh, conceived within her before she was even aware He was there. Her “Yes” is the reason for the Reason for the season. Mary’s “Yes” was a yes for all of us, for all time.
Mary’s choice was to have the Baby Jesus. God did not force her to be the Theotokos, the God-bearer. Mary freely decided to bear and give birth to the Son of God. She freely chose not to abort Him, to kill Him in her womb, or to kill Him once He was born; although infanticide was almost as common in the ancient world as it is today. Because her “Yes” meant the possibility of eternal life for all of us, to say Mary was prolife is the understatement of all time.
What if Mary had said “No,” or “No!” ?
This is difficult to ponder. Would there have been no salvation of all mankind? Would there have been no Christmas? Did God have a second choice in mind, a runner up? Had someone already turned God down? Was there a No. 2, an understudy in the wings? We do know that God knew Mary would say “Yes,” although His foreknowledge did not prevent her from freely agreeing to bear and birth this holy Child.
If Mary had said “No,” if there was no Christ Child, no Christmas, then, to plagiarize from a famous source and apply it to this hypothetical:
“The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.” (Yes, Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus; F. Church , 1897)
Part of our joy at Christmas is our joyful awe and thanks to Mary. Her “Yes” was yes for all God’s children. It meant, as the angel of the Lord told Joseph in a dream, that – because Mary agreed to mama this Child, named “Jesus,” – we would all be saved from our sins. (Mt 1:21).
Mary Does Not Name Her Own Son
Mary and Joseph are both told by the angel of God what the Child’s name will be. (Mary: Lk 1:31 ; Joseph: Mt 1:21). Mary, the mother, and Joseph, the ostensible head of the family whose job it usually was, do not get to name Jesus; but they both, without grumbling, accept that God will name this Baby.
In Holy Scripture, naming someone is an act of power, and a name is a thing of power. Again and again, beginning in Genesis, naming is a major theme, including God naming things, God naming human beings, men and women naming things and offspring, and God re-naming men and women.
The first book of Samuel makes it clear that a person is what a name says. (1Sam 25:25). For the Jewish people a name was much more than a label, or a tag for distinguishing between persons. A name was the equivalent to the person himself or herself. A person’s name was his or her very person, identity, worth, character, reputation, authority, will, ownership, and power.
In Hebrew, the name God gives His Son – Jesus – literally means “Yahweh helps” or “Yahweh saves.” God is naming His Son God.
God’s naming His son Jesus is God’s announcement – His, “Yes, that’s My Boy, chip off the old [very old] block” – gift of this Son. The Bible does not mention God handing out cigars. Such naming is referred to in Isaiah:
“Listen to me, you islands; hear this, you distant nations: Before I was born the Lord called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name.” (Is 43:1).
By naming His Son Jesus, God makes available to all of us the power of that name, the power of His Son. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Rom 10:13)Bottom of Form
Why Would God Let Mary Birth His Son?
Why would God send His own Son to us? Why, after the Fall of Adam, does God want His divine Son to become man? Man, that creature of God as Francis Thompson tells us in his poem, The Hound Of Heaven, “of all God’s clotted clay, the dingiest clot.” St. John says: “Et verbum caro factum est, et habitavit in nobis.” (Jn 1:14). It is easy to think of reasons God would not want to “pitch His tent with us” (literal translation of “habitavit”) and let His Son live on earth as a man; and reasons for His not having wanted to redeem us.
Still, God saw something in us, in each of us. To paraphrase some lines from Thompson’s poem, whom would love ignoble me and you enough to come here and shiver in the cold in Bethlehem so we did not burn in the eternal heat of hell? To be convinced of “how little worthy of any love though art” when we sin, all one need do is look in a mirror. I think about all the times I have been to confession, and all my sins, since that day so long ago at St. Paul’s Parish in San Antonio, going in to talk to the very priest who had baptized me six years earlier, the preist who had married my Mom and Dad, and even then and since being fully aware of my ignobility. Why would God want to redeem me? or any of us? Why would He want to ransom us from this ignobility and make us celestial nobles, His heirs, heavenly aristocrats, His princess, His prince?
The besutiful answer is in a poem, Love Came Down At Christmas, by Christina Rosetti:
“Love came down at Christmas,
Love all lovely, Love Divine,
Love was born at Christmas,
Star and Angels gave the sign.”
Know Mary, Know Christmas
This embodied Christmas Love began with Mary’s love of God. But for that love, there may have been no Christmas.
So, what is there to learn from Mary’s not only talking the Christmas talk – “Yes. I’ll have this Baby” – but also her walking the Christmas walk ? It’s about ninety miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem, and it would seem much longer if you were about to deliver a child . (The scope of this writing is way too limited to enter into the discussion of whether or not she rode on a donkey. The ensuing intense theological debate will not be discussed here).
Mary’s “Yes” is startling evidence of her humility, obedience, generosity, trust, and love, love not only for God, but for all of us. Gabriel tells Mary her Son will be named “Jesus.” Mary knows what that name means in Hebrew, and she knows that God the Father Himself has given her Son this name.
As the angel proclaims to the shepherds, “a savior has been born for you.” (Lk 2:11). Mary says “Yes, I will have this Baby for everyone.”
Merry Mary CHRISTmas!