Read Numbers 6:22-27, Ps. 67:2-3,5,6,8, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:16-21

“But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” (Galatians 4:4-5)

Today is the octave of Christmas. That is, it is exactly eight days ago that we celebrated the birthday of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are celebrating so many things simultaneously today. First is the naming ceremony of Jesus Christ, which occurred exactly eight days after he was born, as our Gospel passage this morning tells us. (Luke 2:21).

Secondly, we are celebrating Mary as the mother of God. In Jewish culture, the eighth day after the birth of a child is also the day to celebrate (acknowledge, thank, and rejoice with) the child's mother. The undeniable truth that Mary is not just an envelope that God used and dumped is what St. Paul asserts in today’s second reading.

Thirdly, we are celebrating a new calendar year. This celebration takes up more attention because of the euphoria of a fresh start. As the saying goes, the morning shows the day. Coincidentally, our first reading today contains blessings for us for the New Year.

Fourthly, we are celebrating World Day of Peace. Today is a day for us to reflect on our commitment to ending wars around us, whether on the micro or macro level. It is a day to examine how well we have been living as our brothers’ keepers. Let us now consider some lessons in today’s readings.

1. Why the name Jesus?
What is in a name? Why is it important to give names? Upon creating man, one of the first assignments God gave to man was to give names to everything He had created. Genesis 2:19-20 reads: “So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man named all cattle, the birds of the air, and every animal of the field…”

Naming points out the truth that we are not all the same. No two persons are the same, not even identical twins. Each of us has a unique story; each of us has a unique purpose. Joseph and Mary would have had a hard time selecting the most appropriate name for this special child, but the Angel Gabriel already revealed to Joseph in a dream: “She will bear a son, and YOU ARE TO NAME HIM JESUS, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21).

Meanwhile, according to Luke, even before the Angel Gabriel appeared to Joseph in a dream, he also appeared to Mary, saying: “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and YOU WILL NAME HIM JESUS. He will be great and called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.” (Luke 1:30-33)

By giving the name “Jesus” to this special child, born not of the flesh but of the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary and Joseph proved themselves obedient to the voice of God. Not only does the name Jesus identify Him, but it also spells out His purpose on earth – the saviour of mankind and the everlasting king. Dear friends, let us take some moments to ask ourselves two questions right now: “What does my name say about me?” and “What efforts am I making to live out the meaning of my name?”

2. How can God have a mother?
Recently, I saw a book titled “The Scandal of the Incarnation: Irenaeus Against the Heretics.” How is the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ a scandal? What is scandalous about God taking our human flesh? It is the fact that God who created us could condescend so low as to become one of us, and not just that, it means that God also condescended so low as to make one of us His mother. This is why the incarnation is a scandal; it is unbelievable yet true.

To celebrate Christmas is to agree that God was born a man, but then, to agree that God was born a man is also to agree that God elevated a woman to become His mother at the incarnation. While it is easy for us to believe and accept the mystery of God taking human flesh, it is not so easy for us to believe and accept the mystery of Mary taking the exalted title of ‘Mother of God.’

For many Christians today, the very sentence: “Mary is the mother of God” is profane; it is an insult, and it is like reducing God – humanising God. Saying that Mary is the mother of God is, for them, giving too much praise and honour to Mary, making her look like some idol dragging prominence with God. However, the simple truth is that today, we only celebrate the deeper meaning of what we already celebrated on Christmas day.

I have a question for anyone who defines Mary as an envelope God only used: “Can you say the woman who bore you was just an envelope?” In other words, did she cease to be your mother after giving birth to you? Even after a million years from now, will she ever stop being your mother? We can’t take away the glory God bestowed upon this woman, yet she remains a creature of God.

Despite being His Mother, Mary is not greater than God. She does not control or command God as our human mothers can do, but as she said in the magnificent: “From now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me. (Luke 1:48-49)

3. Why did God choose to have a Mother?
In today’s second reading, St. Paul tells us: “At the fullness of time, God sent his Son, born of a woman born under the law, to redeem those under the law so that we might become sons of God.” (Gal. 4:4). Our adoption as sons and daughters of God rests on the fact that God was born of a woman.

God could have decided to come in another way, but because He wanted us to have a physical flesh-and-blood connection with Him, He took flesh in the womb of a woman. This is to say that God became a son of man so that man can truly become the son of God. God chose to have a mother to show us how close He is to us. God wants us to have that feeling of warmth in His presence to see ourselves not just as slaves but as His children.

St. Paul says: “You are not slaves anymore but heirs of God.” There is a whole world of difference between a slave and an heir. The slave wants to be free from the Master, but the child knows that all that the Master has belongs to him. Some Christians today relate to God as slaves; they want to be free from God – once they get answers to their prayers, they behave as if there is no God. Love God even if you don’t get what you ask for; after all, everything that belongs to God is yours. Love God even if you are blessed. Let your light shine.

4. The humility and Silence of Joseph and Mary.
In today’s Gospel passage, Luke describes how the shepherds visited Mary and Joseph moments after Jesus was born. The shepherds told them what the Angels said, confirming Joseph's dreams and Angel Gabriel's apparition to Mary. I tried to put myself in the shoes of Mary and Joseph at this point and wonder how they could contain their excitement and wonder. They knew that they were now carrying God in their arms yet did not go about announcing themselves to the world. Mary and Joseph were not loud, and this is something we must learn.

Luke (having interviewed Mary before writing his Gospel) tells us that Mary “treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” Our world is gradually losing a sense of silence. We make a lot of mistakes today because we hardly reflect. We surround ourselves with a lot of noise all day in the name of entertainment, and we never give ourselves a quiet space to meditate on what God is doing for us. St. James would say: “You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak.” (James 1:19)

If God has blessed you, learn to be quiet. Learn from Mary to treasure things in your heart. Yes, you have to thank God, but there is no need to make everyone else around you feel a little. Blessings come with responsibilities. It is one thing to carry God as a child, but another thing to be able to raise that child, not to become wayward, and another thing to protect that child.

5. Happy New Year to You
Congratulations, you are one of those who made it into 2024. To God be the glory. I pray that this new year, you shall rise to your true position as a Son in God’s house and eat no longer remnants but real food from the golden plate of God’s word, the Bible. You shall bless the people you will meet throughout this year. I pray that you will be light amid the darkness of sin and evil in our world.

In our first reading today, Moses prayed for the people: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord, let his face shine upon you, and be gracious! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” As Moses prayed for peace, the world is praying for peace today. Indeed, on the first day of January, we also celebrate World Day of Peace. May this New Year bring you abundant peace of mind and happiness. Amen.

Finally, join our psalmist today to pray: “O God, be gracious and bless us.” It is good to receive powerful prophetic utterances on this first day of the New Year, but today should not be your last day stepping into the church. Jesus taught us to pray for our daily bread – not our yearly bread. That is to say, Jesus wants us to pray every day. Continue to pray, don’t stop.

Let us pray: Almighty, ever-living God, may this New Year be my best. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen.

Be Happy. Live Positive. Have Faith. It is well with you. God bless you. (Mary, Mother of God – Solemnity. Bible Study: Numbers 6:22-27, Ps. 67:2-3,5,6,8, Galatians 4:4-7, Luke 2:16-21).

@Rev. Fr. Evaristus E. Abu