For many years, many of us have always associated Christmas with the birth of Christ, and this time of the year ushers in a season of merriment, pageantry and gift-giving. In the din of all these, there is a chance that we will lose track of the deeper reason behind the celebration of Christmas.
There are two important points that stand out as we go through the nine-day Christmas Novena which I would like to describe as a renewal of our Catholic faith.
The first point is the fiat about the hand maiden chosen by God to be the bearer of His Son. Suppose you find yourself in a situation in which you are not thinking straight, you are confused or dazed, and everything in your life is not turning out the way you envision it, would you believe someone who would appear before you from nowhere and say God has handpicked you for an important and delicate mission?
Your visitor who happens to be an angel tells you that you are to bear and give birth to a child but not from the man to whom you have been betrothed. Would you readily agree or would you ask for some time to gather your thoughts and ask the angel to come back when you have weighed in the pros and cons of the proposal.
Mary was not an ordinary woman for she was full of Grace and was blessed among the women of her time. As a Jewish maiden, she was familiar with the Scriptures, and the Jews then believed in angels as messengers of God.
For us to fully grasp the impact of the Annunciation story we need to go back in history and know the situation when this divine event happened for in doing so, we can truly appreciate the sterling character of our Blessed Mother.
A young, unmarried maiden like Mary who gets pregnant outside of marriage would invite disaster. For Mary to claim that she becomes pregnant by the Holy Spirit, she would be considered crazy. This was the predicament which Mary had when the angel Gabriel told her, “You will bear a child and give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus” (v.31). Disbelief and wonderment must have gripped Mary at that very moment, but the angel assured her “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (v.35).
But Mary’s response stood out and would be hailed from that day forward as a primary model of obedience. Her subservience to the will of God was not only unparalleled but it also led the avenue through which Salvation came into the world. What she knew was that she was being asked by God to serve Him, and she willingly obeyed.
The hope and future of mankind rested on that simple phrase that Mary said: “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (v.38). In other versions, Mary was quoted as saying “be it done unto me according to Thy Word.” Whatever version you are reading is not important because what matters is the manner by which Mary responded.
With her short response, Mary became the vessel through which Our Lord Jesus Christ came into the world, but we should not forget the sacrifices and humility of Joseph who took Mary as his spouse and who stood as guardian of the Savior of humanity.
Eve was referred to as the mother of humanity that was doomed to sin, while Mary was regarded as the mother of the new Adam who reverses the sinful nature of man by her Grace (Rom 5:19). As the angel Gabriel instructed Mary and Joseph, the child to be born was to named Jesus which is a Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua, which means “the Lord saves.” This was also in fulfillment of God’s promise to David that his kingdom will last forever (2 Sam 7:16). And rightly so, for Jesus who came from the house of David (Matt 1) has reigned since then and continues to rule today in the hearts of men.
What then is the message for us in this Gospel reading as well as the inference in Isa 7:12 when Ahaz refused to seek God’s favor which was the exact opposite of Mary’s response. The readings invite us not only to seek God’s favor but also for us to put our trust in Our Lord.
This brings us to the second point. We celebrate Christmas because it reminds us of the coming of Christ who became man, suffered and died to save humanity from sin. But there is more to that. Christmas is primarily the manifestation of God’s love for his people, a love so great that through the birth of Jesus, God bestowed on humanity his super nature. This means that Christmas concretizes what is said in Gen 1:26 “let us create man in our own image and likeness.” The birth of Jesus has clothed humanity with the abundant Graces of God such that man becomes a pre-figurement of Christ himself.
We should remember that God’s favor doesn’t mean success or fame overnight because as in the case of Mary, her being favored led to pain and ridicule. At times, being favored by God means hardships and difficulties but it is in these trying times when our faith is tested.