So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. First, we take a look of the brief background of today’s Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Christians thought about it for three centuries before the Council of Ephesus (A.D. 431), in which they dared to consecrate the title θεοτοκοs or Theotokos, Mother of God: "We confess, then, our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, perfect God and perfect man, of a rational soul and a body, begotten before all ages from the Father in his Godhead, the same in the last days, for us and for our salvation, born of Mary the Virgin according to his humanity, one and the same consubstantial with the Father in Godhead and consubstantial with us in humanity, for a union of two natures took place. Therefore we confess one Christ, one Son, one Lord. According to this understanding of the unconfused union, we confess the holy Virgin to be the Mother of God because God the Word took flesh and became man and from his very conception united to himself the temple he took from her" (Formula of Union).
Although today’s Gospel passage is short, it tells us a lot about Mary, who is also our mother. From Mary, we first can learn how to live with ambiguity. It was ambiguous to Mary when she heard what those people came to the manger and said about her son because if what they said was true, how came the child was born in a manger. Is this not an ambiguity to us? How will we deal with such a situation? Would we not want a clear cut answer? But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Unlike Mary, most of us would prefer a world divided into two distinct spheres of good and evil, right and wrong. In other words, we like and prefer certainty. Uncertainty or ambiguity would be too difficult for us. Such preference causes us to be judgmental to others and actions by labelling them either one hundred percent right or wrong, black or white. In fact, actions are seldom good or bad, right or wrong. And, ambiguity is a reality of life. Our demand for certainty is a sign that we are not open-minded, intolerant and inpatient. All these are against the diversity of God.
Diversity is the fundamental characteristic of God’s creation as we can see from the Book of Genesis. He created light and darkness, sun and moon, ocean and dry land, all kinds of plants, birds and fish, man and woman. God not only created them, but also pronounced them “good”. In Jesus’ time, Jesus also appreciated the diversity in people. His twelve disciples came from different backgrounds, professions and personalities.
In addition to ambiguity, Mary also showed us how to live with adversity in our life. Some of our adversities are major, such as the death of a loved one, marriage problems, personal injury or ill health, loss of a job and major financial difficulties; while others are less, such as sore joints, muscle pains, caught in traffic jams, delayed MTR ride or tensions at work. Nevertheless, all these major and less adversities can help us connect with the presence of God. And we can find no better example than in the story of Mary, mother of Jesus.
In the Gospel according to Luke, we read the story of the Annunciation. We should be reminded that Mary was not sitting quietly waiting for an angel to show up and tell her what to do. Like us, she was an ordinary person leading an ordinary life. At the time of the Annunciation, her biggest plan was her coming marriage with Joseph. But, God, through Gabriel, asked her to do the impossible. After Gabriel replied to her question how this could be done, she responded with those words, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word.”
We all know that after saying her yes, Mary encountered one adversity after another, jeopardizing her relationship with Joseph because of her pregnancy, putting her reputation and life in the fire of the contemporary laws, journeying to Bethlehem during her ninth month of pregnancy, the birth in a cold dark night at a manger, the flight into Egypt, misunderstanding with her 12-year-old son in the temple, her son’s arrest and sentence, and finally standing under the cross that her son would be nailed. How did Mary react to all of these? From the beginning to the end, she simply treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
How often do we mistake that the presence of God solely with peace and tranquility? And how often we blame God for putting adversities into our lives? If we are honest, we will realize that most of the adversities are simply the result of our human condition that none of us is perfect. Through our sin and selfishness, we cause each other pain and sorrow.
But God speaks to us in our pain and sorrow as He spoke to Mary some two thousand years ago. Suffering is one of life’s greatest mysteries. Adversity can make us more sensitive and compassionate as Mary did. It is often through our difficulties and pain that we hear God most clearly.
Today is also the very first day of a new year, 2017. We start the year, as we start life, under the protection of a mother, Mary. Thus, we celebrate the most passionate and enduring of all human relationships, that of mother and child. As Mary looked at her baby and gave him her breast, she knew that there was a dimension here beyond her guessing. May our Mother pray for us. Amen.