Gospel: Luke 2:16-21
Mary Treasured These Words In Her Heart
What memories do you cherish? Why are these memories so special?
The New Year is upon us. A time to cherish last year’s events and a time to look forward to new challenges. In the midst of the parades and bowl games, we take time to take stock and plan.
In these verses from Luke, the mother of Jesus took the time to reflect on the events of her Son’s birth. In doing so, she cherished the memories mothers have of their first experience of child birth. And she cherished the message that her Son would be the Messiah and Lord of all.
After they heard the message of the angels,
16 the shepherds rushed to the place they were told about. They found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When the shepherds saw the couple with the baby, they told Mary and Joseph everything the angels told them about this child. 18 Everyone who heard the message the shepherds related were in awe. 19 But, Mary kept the message like a treasure in her heart. 20 Then, the shepherds returned home. Along the way, they praised God for everything they heard and saw. It was just like the angels told them.
21 Eight days after Jesus was born, he was circumcised and was given the name “Jesus.” This was the name the angel gave him before he was conceived in his mother’s womb.
16 Having hurried, (the shepherds) went (to the place they were told) and (they) found both Mary and Joseph, and the BABE lying in the manger. 17 Having seen (the three), they made known the words having been spoken to them concerning this CHILD. 18 Everyone, those having heard (the words) were in awe about the (words) having been spoken to them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these words (as a treasure), bringing them together in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for everything which they heard and saw, just as it was told to them.
21 When eight days were finished, (the time) when HE was circumcised, HE was given HIS name, JESUS, the (name) having been given by the angel before HE was conceived in (HIS mother’s) womb.
1:19 While others responded in words of awe to the reports of the shepherds, Mary did not reply. Instead, she kept her silence, in accord with Semite custom at the time. But, Luke gave Mary’s point of view in this verse. She treasured the revelation about her son in her heart. Even in silence, she, too, believed.
These verses from Luke (2:16-20) complete the ark of three angelic visitations in his infancy narratives: Gabriel’s message to Zechariah, his message to Mary, and the angel’s message to the shepherds. In each case, the message results in a reaction.
When Zechariah refused to believe the message he could be a father at an old age, he was stuck silent by the angel. Zechariah regained his speech after named his son “John.” The reaction of the people there was holy fear.
Mary accepted the words of the angel. When she visited Elizabeth her cousin, the Spirit moved Elizabeth and the son in her womb to recognize the Messiah.
In Luke 2:9-12, an angel appeared to announce the birth of the Messiah. The appearance was like that of an official who announced a royal decree to the people; 2:9 acted as the preamble, 2:10 was the announcement of the birth, 2:11 revealed the signs to look for. In ancient and medieval times, anyone ascending the throne required the ascent of the armed forces; in Luke 2:13-14, the heavenly host sang praise to God as a sign of ascent. The shepherds reacted in two ways: rushing to confirm the sight of the “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes” and a passing of the Good News. The result would be a holy fear, an awe of God’s presence and activity. (Such a reaction would be common in the gospels, for such activity was uncommon among people.)
Luke had an interest in the low and the outcast. The audience for the message would be the lowly, confirmation of the message would be a common (even overlooked) sight. The audience for the message were the least in society: shepherds. Despite their scriptural and pastoral image, shepherd were held in disdain, for most were hired to watch the flocks of the rich. Without personal financial investment, these hired hands had the reputations as cowards in the face of trouble; many were hired because they lacked any other employable skills. And how would the message be confirmed? The shepherds would see a young family with a newborn. These images were antithetical to common expectations. Many Jews anticipated the Messiah to be born in the midst of luxury; many expected the news of the Messiah would be confirmed by the leadership in Jerusalem (i.e., the Sanhedrin or the Temple priests) and spread from the leaders to the people. Luke painted a much different picture. (Compare the birth of Moses in Exodus to the birth of Jesus for similarities and differences.)
The shepherds spread the Good News to the household; all responded in awe, but one. Mary reacted in a way expected for a Semite woman: silence. But she “treasured up these words, pondering them together in her heart.” Even in her silence, Mary believed the message of the angel. She bore Messiah and Lord into the world. She would add the words of the shepherds to the memories in her heart.
The gospel ended with a transitional verse about the circumcision of Jesus (2:20). His circumcision would lead to the next scene in the infancy narrative: the presentation of the Lord in the Temple (2:22-40).
How do we react to Good News? Do we glorify God? How do we reflect on his goodness in our hearts?
Catechism Theme: Mary, the Mother of God (CCC 502-507)
Mary is called the “God-bearer” (“Theotokos” in Greek), for she bore the divine Son of God into the world as a man. In the virginal birth of her son, we can see God’s revelation. When his Son was conceived in the Blessed Virgin Mary, God showed his complete initiative in that moment of salvation history. When the divine Son took on human flesh at the point of conception, he became the New Adam, the one who, filled with the Spirit, would give his followers that same Spirit; in this way, his followers would be given birth as children of God. When Mary said, “Let it be done to me according to your word,” she gave herself completely to the will of God and became the first Christian, a symbol of the Church; in her “Yes,” she is the most perfect realization of the Church, the assembly of followers who strive to the will of the Father.
How do you honor the Mother of God? How does a Marian devotion shape your prayer life?
Mary did treasure the words of the shepherds in her heart, for they were Good News. She was the vessel of God’s providence; she conceived by the power of the Spirit. Her Son was Messiah and King. She was the first follower and a symbol for all of us, the Church.
As we reflect on this News Years Day, let us consider Mary’s place in our hearts and on our faith journey. She is the Mother of God. She is our model for living the Christian life.
As you plan your New Years resolutions, ask for Mary’s prayers in your efforts.