Church of England Diocese of Lichfield Meir Heath and Normacot

Reflection for 8th September

7 Sep 2020, 1 a.m.

Reflection -The Nativity of Our Lady

The birth of a child is generally an occasion of joy, but it is particularly so when the child is much-wanted, even longed-for. Mary was just such a child – and not just for her parents, Joachim and Anna, as we shall see. Information about Mary before the Annunciation is scarce, and we have to look beyond the Bible to find it. The most interesting and complete account is to be found in the Protoevangelium of James, which dates, in its final form, from probably early in the second century and therefore at only a little over a hundred years from the events it depicts, which is around the same distance as we stand from the death of Queen Victoria. Although the Protoevangelium is not recognized by the Church as being inspired, as are the words of the Bible, that does not mean that it is of no value, as it probably contains a number of ‘memories’ of the earliest Christians, however embellished.

Be that as it may, many early writers of the Church made use of the accounts here and from elsewhere in writing about Our Lady, a topic of much meditation and theological reflection. Mary was Theotokos, the ‘God-Bearer’, Mother of God and was rightly venerated from an early date and increasingly so as theological reflection on her role in salvation deepened. Paul tells us that the whole of creation had been sighing and groaning, awaiting it’s redemption and now, in the Immaculate Conception and the Birth of Mary, who the angels knew, through divine revelation, would be the Mother of God, that moment had begun to arrive.

How it must have gladdened the heavenly host to know that, at last, the final stage of the redemption of humanity, and hence of the entire created order, had finally begun! The birth of Mary, who was to play such a central role in this drama, was absolutely necessary. Without Mary, the Incarnation could not have taken place. Oh, I suppose God could have chosen another girl to become the Mother of the Second Person of Trinity, incarnate on earth for us. Yet it was this girl, born of a priestly family in the first century of Roman rule in Palestine, who was chosen. God’s purposes are the deepest mystery and, as the Psalms remind us, are unfathomable but he does not make mistakes. The great mystery here is that having chosen the Incarnation as the means by which he would bring about our salvation, he entrusted it to this young Jewish girl. Imagine! The greatest event imaginable dependent on the ‘yes’ of this child. Yet that is how God chose to work. No wonder the Church has always honoured Mary so highly, praised her so mightily! Even the great Protestant writers, even after having abandoned and rejected the Catholic Faith and no friends of saints, were insistent on the greatness of Mary! Embarrassing to most modern Protestants, if they were even to know of it, the great 16th Century founder of Reformed Protestantism, John Calvin, was insistent that ‘No-once can have God as their Father unless they have Mary as their Mother’.

This way of God in working with the freely-given ‘yes’ of a teenage girl is paradigmatic of the way in which he works with us all. God saves us. No human being is remotely capable of saving him or herself. Yet God requires our cooperation in doing so, we must work with him to achieve this free salvation and we always remain free to reject it. God loves us so much that he must always give us the option to freely reject him and his love, just as Mary could have said ‘no’ to becoming the Mother of her Saviour. Yet because God, in his infinite love for us has given us free will, this is necessarily a time-limited offer. It is limited by the moment of our deaths. At the moment in which we finally pass out of this world, a step every human must inevitably take, we are presented before the Lord and the time for choice is past. We shall, for good or ill, see Christ face to face. Because we will be presented with the awe-full reality of God, we shall no longer have the choice of accepting or rejecting him. All will recognize him for who he is and any form of atheism will be impossible.

Some say that, seeing God, who could then reject him? All people will therefore accept him and be saved. Yes, this is an attractive idea, but it has no place in either the Bible or the consciousness of the Church. It is to do both God and humans a grave injustice, for it refuses to take seriously either the dignity of human free will or the absolutely radical love of God which must respect that free will! Universalism, the belief that all will ultimately be saved, cannot be reconciled with the words of Jesus, however hard that may seem.

No, now is the time of choice, now is the time of salvation! That is why how we behave in our lives, how we repent of our sins and the extent we avail ourselves of the Sacraments which God has provided as the ‘ordinary’ means of our salvation actually really matters! Mary shows us the way, the way which lies in offering our constant ‘yes’ to her Son. It is in her ‘yes’ that we can confide our own ‘yes’, trusting in her powerful intersession to aid our often feeble and faltering response to God’s call in our own lives. It is also on reflecting carefully on the results of her own ‘yes’ to God’s seemingly cruel and demanding requirements of her (adultery, which it would have been seen as, carried the death penalty) that we can find the hope and the courage so needed when God makes his will for our lives clear. God’s will for us may not be what we had hoped for, may even seem harsh, may even require that we be prepared to lay down our lives. Yet this same God who calls us to bear our cross, whatever that may be, is also the one who promises us eternal life with him in the Kingdom and who has crowned his own human mother Queen of that Kingdom. Imagine! One who is utterly human has become the highest of all created beings, of angels, as well as humans! She is next only to God himself and, whilst there can be but one in her position, he promises that we can be sharers in the Kingdom with her! It is no wonder that the saints, whilst on earth, when they contemplated the glories of this simple girl from Nazareth made Queen of Heaven cried for sheer joy!

Therefore, let us celebrate this Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the true Mother of God, with great rejoicing. In her ‘yes', let us have the confidence to make our own ‘yes’, so that with her, we may come to rejoice eternally with all the saints in the Kingdom of her beloved Son, Christ our true God.