But when God ‘visited his people’ (Luke 7:16) he stirred them with excitement and longing. There was something definitively new in the birth of the Messiah. Those who ‘left their nets’ and gave their energy to the new ‘way’ found themselves continually astonished by the rapid change which they found they were facilitating. ‘It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us that …’(Acts 15:28). Can we even remotely imagine such a sentence appearing anywhere in the old testament?
The readings for January 1st used to dwell on the ‘eight days later’ of the circumcision, no doubt underlining Jesus’ humanity and his commitment to his Jewish heritage. But in recent times our gaze has moved for a moment from the person of Jesus to his mother. I always find it astonishing that the church took four hundred years to get her thoughts in order about Mary. Catholics are so used to tripping off ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God …’ in the rosary but do we ever pause to think that that simple phrase was fought over for almost a century? Finally, at the Council of Ephesus in 431, the gathered bishops proclaimed this title and Cyril of Alexandria searched for words to honour her: ‘Mother of God, august treasury of the whole world, unquenchable torch, crown of virginity, sceptre of orthodoxy, temple indestructible and place of the uncontainable…’ Four years ago, I was part of a group of people who were deeply moved as we remembered these events during a Eucharist in the now ruined church in Ephesus (western Turkey).
‘Now I am making the whole of creation new’ (Rev 21:5). As we discover more about our world, (I was astonished to see a map tracing – by DNA – our human ancestry from somewhere in Ethiopia to the four corners of the earth over tens of thousands of years), we realise more and more what a complex and beautiful reality we are part of. But we also know the flaws and the pain of that story and that they are still with us today. Remembering Mary on New Year’s Day is to remember one incredible fact: when God wanted to renew his creation and fulfil all its yearnings he needed our consent. And one of us, this ‘treasury of the whole world’, said yes, ‘let it be as you say’ (Luke 1:38).
As we enter a new year, or a new year enters us, we too can be excited and stirred by the opportunities given to us. ‘Let them happen!’
1 January 2012Post published in: Opinions