Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Micah 5:1-4a; Matthew 1:1-16, 18-23

It’s tempting on this Feast Day to turn to the 2nd century Protoevangelium of James and consider its many details on the birth and childhood of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After all, Scripture is silent about these things and it’s a good day to set aside some time to contemplate them. There is nothing wrong with that; it’s good, pious reading. However, it is not the mind of the Church to read the Protoevangelium at her sacred liturgies; it is not part of the canon of Sacred Scripture. So the question is, what does Sacred Scripture tell us today with regard to Mary?

Firstly, Scripture tells us something simply in the silence itself. In its own way, silence speaks volumes. Saints have gone into ecstasy contemplating the hidden years of our Lord; I think the hidden years of the Blessed Mother’s life are also fertile ground for contemplation. Consider one possible fruit: Humility. Christ himself labored for decades in the silence and obscurity of Nazareth; Mary was content to live her entire life that way. How much more can we benefit from laboring for God in quiet imitation of them! Growth in humility is death to our own pride and vainglory; as St. Paul said, Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3). Truly, Mary’s life was the epitome of what it means to be hidden with Christ in God.

Secondly, sometimes when Scripture speaks in reference to Mary it does so indirectly. A good example is the gospel today, which is one of my very favorites. There are a few remarkable things about it but in reference to the Blessed Mother two things in particular stand out.

First, God makes clear that women have a crucial role to play; sometimes predictable, sometimes not. We are familiar to some degree with the women prophets of Scripture such as Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and the mysterious prophetess of Isaiah 8:3, but they don’t appear in the genealogy. Four women (apart from Mary) do: The first, Tamar, is twice-widowed of the sons of Judah and harshly treated by him, but cleverly tricks him into fathering her sons Perez and Zerah to get family support. Next comes Rahab, the Canaanite harlot who lied to help the Israelites conquer Jericho and thus preserved her family’s lives and freedom. Third is Ruth, the Moabite and widow who secured a bright future for herself and her mother-in-law by boldly lying next to the half-drunk Boaz in the fields and suggesting marriage. Finally, there is Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, whom the jealous, lustful King David had put to death that he might marry her. Bathsheba becomes mother of one of the great kings – Solomon.

But it’s not only the women. The entire genealogy is a wonderful example of how God can, as St. Paul said, make all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). Our Lord’s family tree runs the gamut from the famous (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and Solomon), to the infamous (Manasseh), to the obscure (Achim, Eliud and Matthan). Each one, man or woman, Jew or Gentile, saint or sinner, cooperated with God, defied Him or both; regardless, his purpose was never frustrated but written with straight lines through all the crooked generations directly onto the immaculate heart of a young girl born of Anna, betrothed to Joseph, hailed by the angel as Full of Grace, and asked to be the Mother of the Only Son of God. If God can do all this with them, think what He can do with us.

We who remember Mary on her birthday do well to remember the lessons from these Scriptures, for they teach not only how God works with us but how He comes to us: Not in the bluster of the mighty or those zealous for the limelight, but in the silence and obscurity of the hidden life; not in the mighty wind, the earthquake, or the fire, but in the still, small voice of a tiny baby born in a village too small to be among the clans of Judah yet big enough to hold the heart of infinite mercy and love. And we do better to ask the intercession of Mary’s Immaculate heart for the grace to say in our own lives what she said to the angel: Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word (Luke 1:38).

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.

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