“When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman” (Gal 4:4).
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God a part of the Octave of Christmas. We continue to celebrate the birth of God into the World. The Word come into the world, fully God, fully human – not on the great rolling thunder clouds with the heavenly hosts at full strength. Rather, Christ came into our lives at the end of a very human process: conception to birth – i.e., When the fullness of time had come…
It strikes me that the way Christ came into the world also describes how faith is born in our lives – after a long human process – when the fullness of time has come. God never dynamites his way into our lives with a force so powerful that we can’t resist. For most of us, God enters our life in the same way that Jesus did on the first Christmas. God is gestated in a womb of our soul and consciousness and first appears as a helpless infant that has to be picked up, nurtured, and coaxed into adulthood. For God “to grow into maturity” the Blessed Virgin Mary shows us a certain blueprint, a pattern for how God is born into our world and how faith is born in our lives. There are four moments in the blueprint: (1) to move in cooperation with the Holy Spirit; (2) a period in which there is a gestation of God within one’s body and soul; (3) the stretching and agony of giving birth; and (4) the nurturing of an infant into adulthood.
To move in cooperation with the Holy Spirit: More than “May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) allowing the conception of Jesus by the power of the Spirit, Mary also let the seed of God’s spirit (charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, long-suffering, fidelity, mildness, and faith) take root in her that it began to grow into actual flesh and being.
Gestation of God within one’s body and soul: The Annunciation was not followed immediately by childbirth. The months of pregnancy ensued. I suspect morning sickness, aches and pains, and the usual range of experience was part of the experience. Yet silently, new life grows, an umbilical cord giving physical sustenance to the life of God, steadily growing. Eventually, as in all pregnancies, life demanded to be born into the world.
The agony of giving birth: We are all born into the world with pain. I would suspect Jesus included. So too with the moment in which the God’s charity, joy, peace, patience, goodness, fidelity and faith emerge from within to be on display in one’s life. Just as with childbirth, there can be much groaning and stretching of the flesh for this sacred life to emerge into the world. But in the end, what’s precious inside and has been given birth outside.
One sees these same patterns when ministering the RCIA process where one is privileged to see faith grow in the lives of people seeking God and a deeper relationship with the Divine. What was a notion, a thought, an inkling, becomes a commitment for life. The Word of God slowly gives spiritual life even as there is an agony of doubt, of family asking why they are doing this, and all that comes with major change in life.
Nurturing an infant into adulthood: The author Annie Dillard once suggested that we always find God in our lives as Jesus was found in Bethlehem on Christmas, a helpless infant in the straw who must be picked up and nurtured into adulthood: “God’s works are as good as we make them. That God is helpless, our baby to bear, self-abandoned on the doorstep of time, wondered at by cattle and oxen.” Mary gave birth to the baby, Jesus, but what she ultimately gave the world was not the adult, Christ. Like all mothers she had to spend years nursing, cajoling, teaching, and nurturing an infant into adulthood. And so too is it with the Faith that the RCIA catechumen or candidate expressed at the Easter Vigil.
In looking at how Mary gave birth to Christ, we are given a blueprint that invites admiration but also imitation. Mary is the model of faith. Each of us is called to give birth to God in our lives. Christmas is for marveling at what once took place, but it’s also for imitation, for continuing to give God flesh in the world.
Let me leave you with the words of St. Francis of Assisi:
“They are children of the heavenly Father whose works they do, and they are spouses, brothers, and mothers of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We are spouses when the faithful soul is joined to our Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit.
We are brothers to Him when we do the will of the Father Who is in Heaven.
We are mothers when we carry Him in our heart and body through divine love and pure and sincere conscience and give birth to Him through a holy activity which must shine as an example before others.”