We have all probably heard the term “The Scandal of the Cross”, Christianity’s shocking claim that the Eternal God Himself was tortured to death in a manner usually reserved for the lowest of human beings. That is only one, however, of a whole interconnected collection of truth claims that are equally shocking and scandalous.
We celebrate one of those claims today, on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The title might not sound quite as presumptuous in the original formulation adopted at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., Θεοτόκος (theotokos), literally, “God-bearer”, but it’s still asking a lot of human credulity. That old rascal Napoleon supposedly claimed to find Islam preferable to Christianity because it was “less ridiculous”, that is to say, less reliant on miracles and difficult concepts like the Trinity . . . or Christ’s being, at the same time, a descendant of David and the Son of God. But of course, Napoleon really believed in little other than himself.
As Christians, on the other hand, we know that we are called to conform ourselves to the Truth, not to the impossible task of somehow conforming Divine Truth to ourselves. And so we find that the Divine Motherhood of Mary becomes a source, not of perplexity, but of profound awe and wonder. Along the way we also find ourselves pondering less profound but still compelling questions such as, "What is it like for a human mother, even one who is 'full of Grace', to bring forth and raise up the Second Person of the Trinity as her child?"
That particular question is explored in the first of the three songs performed by Hayley Westenra in the clip below. “Mary Did You Know?”, written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, was first recorded in 1991. In the subsequent twenty-five years it has been recorded by at least 30 different artists over a wide variety of genres. It has also become much beloved of homilists; I first heard of the song ten years ago in a Christmas morning sermon delivered by Richard Malone, then-Bishop of Portland, Maine. A large part of the song's appeal, I think, is that it captures the awe and wonder of the Incarnation in such a personal way:
Mary, did you know
That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know
Your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?
Did you know,
That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?
And when you kiss your little baby,
You've kissed the face of God.
The second song in the medley is the old Basque carol “The Angel Gabriel’s Message”. This lovely Marian song brings us back to the Annunciation. We know that God gives us the freedom to say “no”, but the refrain “Most highly favored Lady” reminds us that he gives us all the Grace to do his will should we choose to say “yes”. Mary was given the Grace to do something that God had never asked of anyone before her, and would never ask again . . . and so all generations call her “Blessed”.
Finally, “O Holy Night”, one of my favorite Christmas songs. “Holy” means “set aside for God”. What night could be Holier than that on which “Christ was born”, the Night on which the Eternal Word became Flesh and came into our world through the agency of a human mother, a young woman who dared to say “yes” to God?Holy Mother of God, Pray For Us!