Mary, Mother of God
1 January 2012
Rev Les Ruhrmund
Let me take this opportunity of wishing you God’s richest blessings on this New Year’s Day on which we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. A week ago we celebrated the birth of Jesus, our Saviour. Today we give thanks and honour and devotion to the woman who made that possible. Without Mary there is no Christmas as we know it. What a marvellous and appropriate way to start a new year, a new beginning, with the one who was herself the embodiment of a new beginning; Mary, the New Eve.
While the date of 1st January for the celebration of this feast was only formally introduced into the liturgical calendar in 1974, the Church has been celebrating Mary, Mother of God for very many centuries. By the 5th century already it was being celebrated in France and Spain on the Sunday before Christmas.
There are other feasts through the year celebrating Mary’s life and the role that she played in God’s plan for our salvation but today we focus on Mary as the Mother of God. A title that is perhaps as contentious in Protestant Christianity today as it was in the early Church in the 4th and 5th centuries.
Origen of Alexandria in the third century is often cited as the earliest known author to have referred to Mary as the Mother of God and the earliest known Marian prayer called ‘Beneath Thy Protection’ dating back to about AD 250, also uses this title. A copy of the text of this prayer written on papyrus was rediscovered in Egypt in 1917. The direct English translation of the Greek reads:
Beneath your protection,
we take refuge, O Mother of God:
do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:
but rescue us from dangers,
only pure, only blessed one.
The Latin translation (Sub Tuum Praesidium) has been put to music many times most notably perhaps by Mozart and Salieri (there are least 50 versions posted on Youtube).
The ecumenical council that took place in Ephesus in AD 431 was convened specifically to discuss a serious dispute that had arisen about the use of this title of Mother of God for Mary. The Patriarch of Constantinople at that time, a man named Nestorius, maintained that Christ had two persons – one divine and one human – and he condemned the use of the reference to Mary as the Mother of God. He insisted that the most that could be said of Mary was that she gave birth to the human person of Jesus and not the divine. The council condemned his teachings as heresy and he was swiftly retired and eventually exiled to a monastery in Egypt.
One of Nestorius’s greatest opponents, Cyril of Alexandria, wrote “I am amazed that there are some who are entirely in doubt as to whether the holy Virgin should be called Mother of God (Theotokos) or not. For if our Lord Jesus Christ is God, how is the holy Virgin who gave [Him] birth, not the Mother of God (Theotokos)?
Affirming Mary as Mother of God has more to do with who Jesus is, than who Mary is. Mary was human as we are and obviously could not be the origin of a divine person but Jesus took his human nature from Mary. For nine months she carried in her womb and then gave birth to God incarnate; Jesus, fully human and fully divine. She was in every sense his mother.
Looking at our own mothers is another way of perhaps understanding this better. My Mom only gave me 50% of my genetic make-up, the other 50% came from my Dad. My soul came from God. But my Mom gave birth to the complete me – body and soul. She is my mother and I am her son. Mary is the Mother of God because she’s the mother of Jesus, who is God.
This is traditionally the day when we make resolutions about changes we want to make in our lives in the year to come.
This is when we decide…
To lose weight …again.
To get more exercise …again.
To put more time aside for prayer ….
To eat more healthily; perhaps quit smoking or drinking;
To spend less money and save more; to worry less and laugh more …….
May I suggest that we add to the list a resolution taken from today’s Gospel reading?
Let us in the year ahead be more like the shepherds.
After they had seen Jesus in the manger with his mother Mary and Joseph they went back to the fields where they were watching their sheep ‘glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.”
We have hung the decorations, admired the lights, sung the carols, exchanged gifts and celebrated with a feast. We have marvelled at the mystery and the wonder of God coming into our world.
But what do we do now?
What do we do with what we have heard, seen and experienced?
If we just wrap up the lights, put the ornaments back in tissue paper and pack away the presents, it has been for nothing.
We need to tell the world what we know, what we believe, what we hold to be true in our hearts.
The shepherds went back into the fields to tell the story and share the good news – they were the first evangelists. And so it needs to be with us.
Mary, the Mother of God – the one who presumably showed the newborn Jesus to the shepherds – is the one who brought Christ into the world.
And now it is up to us to bring Christ into the world.
Let us resolve, then, this year to do something more challenging, more daunting, more difficult than just giving up desert or spending time on the treadmill.
Resolve to love those who seem unlovable; to remember those who are forgotten; to accept those whom others reject; to forgive those who have hurt us; and to pray for those whom we’d rather condemn.
In these ways and more, we can be the shepherds to our world, proclaiming in our own way what we have seen and experienced in Bethlehem.
And maybe, in doing all that, we can do our part to bring about what this holy season represents. We can indeed bring tidings of comfort and joy. We can bring the Prince of Peace into the lives of those we meet and those we love.
Let’s join our hearts and voices now and say together that ancient and much loved prayer:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee …………