Readings: Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
In the interest of ecumenical dialogue and Christian Unity, Mary under the title “Mother of God” would seem to be an unwelcome stumbling block. And to the degree that this title in any way suggests Mary as–in some sense–preexisting God or even the person of Christ, it surely is. And thus, perhaps, the title “Theotokos” better captures the truth guarded by this honorific and ancient title of Mary. For “God-bearer” versus “Mother” in the sense of “origin of,” is clearly a more accurate rendering of the truth behind the title. And “bearer” less in the sense of the “one who bore God” and more in the sense of one who carried God and gave God to the world.
As we know, this title of Mary was bestowed in the throes of the great Christological controversies of the early Church when either the full humanity or the true divinity of Christ was denied or seriously compromised. The act of physically giving birth defended the full humanity of Christ, whereas “God-bearer” or “Mother of God,” affirmed his divinity–the two natures in one Person solution that emerged from these theological battles. And yet as important as this role that the title ascribed to Mary was theologically, it is more than just a theological statement about the true nature of Christ, and actually has practical relevance for our daily lives.
If we recall Jesus’ insistence that all those who do the will of my Father are my brother, and sister, and mother, then there is a very real sense in which we are called to share in Mary’s role as God-bearers to our world and our time. Notwithstanding Mary’s unique role in the incarnation of her Son, she is celebrated today more than just someone to honor and venerate. For Mary gave Christ to the world in a two-fold manner–physically through the virgin-birth and spiritually through the person she was and became.
In other words human nature, being created in the image and likeness of God, is a manifestation or “showing” of God. Through her immaculate conception her perfected human nature was an unimpeded conduit of God’s grace communicating his presence. This is very evident when she visited her cousin Elizabeth and couldn’t conceal the one she bore within her–not just the human Jesus but also his divinity that had Elizabeth describing her as the Mother of my Lord. But not unlike the icon (as opposed to a simple picture or painting) Mary as the perfected image of God not only pointed to her Creator but mediated his presence to those open to recognize him, so that the image and reality were inseparable through her perfect union with the Lord and the Father’s will.
And so what Mary was from the moment of her conception, we are urged to become by opening our hearts to sanctifying grace so that growing ever more like Christ in the process of deepening our union with him, we too both reflect and become Christ–and intimate members of his Body–and thus bear him through our very being to a world that still does not know the true God and Jesus Christ whom he has sent. Accordingly, let us pray for the grace to unite ourselves evermore perfectly with the will of the Father whereby (according to Jesus’ promise) we become by grace his mother, brother and sister, and in that process also become God-bearers to an often God-bereft world.