The text of the feast of the Mother of God (Lk 2:16-21) is part of the broader description of the birth of Jesus (Lk 2,1-7) and of the visit of the shepherds (Lk 2:8-21). The angel had announced the birth of the Saviour and gave a sign of recognition: “You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger!” They were expecting the Saviour of a whole people and they were to recognise him in a newborn child, poor, who lies close to two animals! What a great surprise!
God’s plan is fulfilled in an unexpected way, full of surprise. This happens today too. A poor child is the Saviour of the people! Can you believe this?
b) A commentary on the text:
Luke 2:8-9: The first invited persons
The shepherds were marginalised people, not greatly appreciated. They lived together with the animals, separate from the rest of humanity. Because of their constant contact with animals, they were considered impure. No one would have ever invited them to visit a newly born baby. But it is precisely to these shepherds that the Angel of the Lord appears to pass on the great news of the birth of Jesus. Seeing the vision of the angels, they are full of fear.
Luke 2:10-12: The first announcement of the Good News
Luke 2:13-14: The praise of the angels: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace for those he favours
A multitude of angels appears descending from heaven. It is heaven that bends itself towards the earth. The parts of this verse summarise God’s project, his plan. The first part tells us what happens in the world up there: Glory to God in the highest heaven. The second part tells us what will happen in the world here below: On earth peace for those he favours! If people could experience what it means to be favoured by God, everything would be different and peace would dwell on earth. And this would be to the greater glory of God who dwells in the highest!
Luke 2:15-18: The shepherds go to Bethlehem and tell of their vision of the angels
The Word of God is no longer a sound produced by the mouth. It is above all an event! The shepherds literally say: “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us”. In Hebrew, the expression DABAR may mean both word and thing (event), generated by the word. The word of God is a creative force. It fulfils what it says. At creation God said: “Let there be light, and there was light!” (Gen 1:3). The word of the angel to the shepherds is the event of the birth of Jesus.
Luke 2:19-20: Mary’s attitude and that of the shepherds concerning these events
Luke immediately adds that, "Mary treasured all these things (events) and pondered them in her heart". These are two ways of perceiving and welcoming the Word of God: (i) The shepherds get up to see the events and verify the sign given by the angel, and then, they go back to their flocks glorifying and praising God for all that they had seen and heard. (ii) Mary, on the other hand, carefully keeps all these events in her mind and meditates on them in her heart. To meditate on things in one’s heart means to ruminate them and throw light on them in the light of the Word of God so as to understand better their full significance for life.
Luke 2:21: The circumcision and Name of Jesus
According to the norms of the law, the child Jesus is circumcised on the eighth day after his birth (cf. Gen 17:12). Circumcision was a sign of belonging to the people. It gave the person an identity. On such an occasion each child received his name (cf. Lk 1:59-63). The child receives the name of Jesus that had been given him by the angel before his conception. The angel had said to Joseph that the name of the child had to be Jesus “he is the one who is to save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). The name of Jesus is the same as Joshua, and means God will save. Another name that will gradually be given to Jesus is Christ, which means Anointed or Messiah. Jesus is the awaited Messiah. A third name is that of Emmanuel, which means God with us (Mt 1:23). The complete name is Jesus Christ Emmanuel!
c) Further information:
Mary in Luke’s Gospel
i) The role of the first two chapters of Luke’s Gospel:
These are two rather well known but less deeply understood chapters. Luke writes them in imitation of the Old Testament. It is as though these two chapters were the last of the Old Testament so as to open the door for the coming of the New Testament. In these chapters, Luke creates an atmosphere of softness and praise. From beginning to end the mercy of God is sung, God who finally comes to fulfil his promises. Luke shows us how Jesus fulfils the Old Testament and begins the New Testament. And he does so in favour of the poor, the anawim, those who knew how to wait for his coming: Elisabeth, Zachary, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, Anna and the shepherds. That is why the first two chapters are history but not in the sense that we today give to history. They were more like a mirror where those, for whom they were written, the Christians converted from paganism, could discover who Jesus was and how he had come to fulfil the prophecies of the Old Testament, satisfying the deepest aspirations of the human heart. These chapters were also a mirror of the events that were taking place within the communities in Luke’s time. The communities originating from paganism will be born of the communities of converted Jews. But these were different. The New did not correspond to what the Old Testament imagined and expected. It was "the sign of contradiction" (Lk 2:34), and caused tensions and was the source of much suffering. In Mary’s attitude, Luke presents a model of how the communities could react to and persevere in the New.
ii) A key to the reading:
In these two chapters Luke presents Mary as model for the life of the community. The key is given to us in the episode where the woman in the crowd praises the mother of Jesus. Jesus modifies the praise and says: “More blessed still are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Lk 11:27-28). Herein lies the greatness of Mary. It is in the world where Mary knows how to relate to the Word of God that the communities contemplate the more correct way of relating to the Word of God: welcoming it, incarnating it, living it, deepening it, reflecting on it, giving it birth and making it grow, allowing oneself to be overpowered by it even when one does not understand it or when one suffers because of it. This is the vision underlying the two texts of chapters 1 and 2 of Luke’s Gospel, which speak of Mary, the mother of Jesus.
iii) An application of the key to the texts:
1. Luke 1:26-38: The Annunciation: "Let it happen to me as you have said!"
Opening one’s self so that the Word of God may be welcomed and incarnated.
2. Luca 1:39-45: The Visitation: "Blessed is she who believed!"
Recognising the Word of God in the events of life.
3. Luke 1:46-56: The Magnificat: “The Almighty has done great things for me!”
A subversive and resistance hymn of hope.
4. Luke 2:1-20: The Birth: "She treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.”
There was no room for them. The marginalised welcome the Word.
5. Luke 2:21-32: The Presentation: "My eyes have seen the salvation!"
Years of life purify the eyes.
6. Luke 2:33-38: Simeon and Anna: "A sword will pierce your soul"
Being a Christian means being a sign of contradiction.
7. Luke 2:39-52: At twelve years: " Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"
They did not understand the Word of God addressed to them!
iv) The contrasts that stand out in our text:
1. In the darkness of the night a light shines (2:8-9).
2. The world up there, heaven, seems to embrace our world here below (2:13).
3. The greatness of God manifests itself in the weakness of a child (2:7).
4. The glory of God is made present in a manger, close to animals (2:16).
5. Fear is generated by the sudden apparition of an angel and is changed into joy (2:9-10).
6. Those completely marginalised are the first invited (2:8).
7. The shepherds recognise God present in a child (2:20).
6. Praying with the Psalm 23 (22)
“Yahweh is my shepherd!”
Yahweh is my shepherd,
I lack nothing.
In grassy meadows he lets me lie.
By tranquil streams he leads me
to restore my spirit.
He guides me in paths of saving justice as befits his name.
Even were I to walk in a ravine as dark as death
I should fear no danger,
for you are at my side.
Your staff and your crook are there to soothe me.
You prepare a table for me under the eyes of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup brims over.
Kindness and faithful love pursue me every day of my life.
I make my home in the house of Yahweh for all time to come.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.
The first thing the angel says is: Do not be afraid! The second is: Joy to be shared by the whole people! The third is: Today! Then the angel gives three names to indicate who Jesus is: Saviour, Christ and Lord! Saviour is the one who frees all people from all ties! The authorities in those days liked to use the title Saviour. They attributed the title of Soter to themselves. Christ means anointed or messiah. In the Old Testament this was the title given to kings and prophets. It was also the title of the future Messiah who would fulfil the promises made by God to his people. This means that newly born child, who lies in a manger, has come to fulfil the hopes of the people. Lord was the name given to God himself! Here we have the three greatest titles imaginable. From this announcement of the birth of Jesus as Saviour, Christ and Lord, can you imagine anyone with a higher standing? And angel says to you: “Be careful! I give you this sign of recognition: you will meet a child in a manger, in the midst of poor people!” Would you believe him? God’s ways are not our ways!