The Gift

SIMONE_MARTINI_Maestà_(detail)_1315

Christmas 2023

Fr. Peter Robinson

Preached: December 24-25, 2023

On this holy Christmas morning, we find ourselves surrounded by gifts! I remember, as a child, dragging my dad out of bed in the pitch darkness at 0500 in the morning. Then, my sisters and I would race to the Christmas tree to see what “Santa” had left us. Meanwhile, dad was soon sound asleep again — on the couch. As you all know from experience, those moments are burned into our memories for the rest of life.

So, this morning I want to turn our attention to a wonderful gift that God himself has given to us on this Christmas Day. In particular, I’m referring to an event that happened many years after Jesus was born. I’m speaking of the occasion in Luke’s Gospel (11:27) when Jesus, performing a miracle, heard a woman’s voice call out in the crowd: “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!”

Because Jesus’ miracles gave proof of his divine power, this woman wanted to honour not just Jesus, but his mother, too. That is, given Jesus’ greatness as a miracle-worker, this woman wanted his mother to share in that greatness. After all, she gave him birth, right? Millenia later, that woman was right — think of every Rosary that you have ever prayed: “Hail Mary … blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb …”

But the Lord Jesus had another priority: that is, he did not wish for people to seek happiness only in a purely physical relationship. That is why he replied: “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!” You see, as great as the honour is that we give to Mary in a physical way (because she is Jesus’ birth mother), Mary is to be blessed in another way, in a spiritual way: she, as a teenage woman, heard God’s word and kept it.

Which is why, in Jesus’ opinion, Mary is truly blessed. She kept God’s truth in her mind — even while she carried the body of God’s Son in her womb. The truth of Jesus’ identity (as God the Son) and the body of Jesus (the man) were both Christ.

Four centuries after Jesus, St Augustine would write that Jesus was kept in Mary’s mind, insofar as he is truth; and he was carried in her womb, insofar as he is man. But St Augustine teaches that what is kept in the mind is of a higher order than what is carried in the womb.

So, though the Virgin Mary is both holy and blessed, the Church is greater than she. Why? Because Mary is a part of the Church. She is the first member of the Church, the first to profess and follow Jesus. She is a holy and eminent – in fact, the most eminent – disciple of Jesus. But she is still only a member of the entire body of the Church. The body of the Church is greater than Mary, who is the first of its members. In fact, this body of the universal Church has the Lord Jesus himself for its head. And the head (who is divine) and the body (which is us, and all believers) together make up the whole Church — including Mother Mary.

Brothers and sisters, on this Christmas morning our greatest gift (from God himself) is belonging to the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church: of belonging to Jesus, through the Church, and to his beloved mother, Mary.

……….
From Liturgy of the Hours, Vol. IV: | Psalter: Tuesday, Week I, 686 | Common of BVM: 1628 | Proper of Saints: 1572 | Second reading, from a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop: “She who believed by faith, conceived by faith”
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