Lectionary 18, Gospel: Luke 2:16-21
The verse introducing the gospel on this first day of the year might hold the key to understanding what we celebrate on this feast dedicated to Mary, the Mother of God, and how the readings address Mary’s role in our salvation. The verse is borrowed from the opening words of the Epistle to the Hebrews: “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he has spoken to us through the Son” (Heb 1:1-2).
An example of the sort of prophetic announcement to which the author of Hebrews refers (“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets”) can be found in today’s first reading, from the book of Numbers. There we hear how the priests who ministered at first in the meeting tent where God appeared to Moses, and later in the Temple in Jerusalem, would invoke a blessing upon the people of Israel with a special formula: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!” The Lord concludes in Numbers: “So shall they invoke my name upon the Israelites, and I will bless them” (Num 6:27).
Indeed for many years and centuries the people of Israel found blessing in the Lord through the ministry of his priests and through their worship in the Temple—a place Jesus himself knew from his boyhood. God was faithful to his promise and he truly spoke to his people through the prophets from Moses to John the Baptist, the last of the prophets. Finally, “in these last days, God has spoken to us through the Son” to bring his prophecy to fulfillment; or as St. Paul puts it, “God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption” (Gal 4:4).
This Son would be the new and definitive source of blessing for all Israel and even for the gentile nations. Mary for her part had the humility and the wisdom to recognize that in spite of how much it staggered her mind, the very Lord who spoke to Moses and the Israelites in the days of Numbers was the same as her infant Son, whom she carried to a priest in order that he might be admitted through circumcision as a child of the Mosaic law and thus complete the law and bring all nations to the salvation the law promised. In the gospel we hear: “When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel” (Luke 2:21).
Jesus, whose name means “salvation,” was the Son who extended the promise of God to all the nations; Mary was the Mother whose peaceful acceptance of God’s will—“be it done unto me according to your word” (Luke 1:38)—led to the completion of the Lord’s plan and thus she is rightly honored this day as the Mother of God. The blessing first came to Israel through the prophetic and priestly words of Numbers; the blessing now comes to all through Jesus, our “salvation”. Let us give thanks today that in the mystery of God’s plan for our salvation Mary was chosen to bring her maternal strength and devotion together with the Lord’s grace—so that she may be mother to all who seek her intercession, and so that truly all nations and all generations may call her “blessed” (Luke 1:48).
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.