Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Homily: Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God

Good Morning!  And Happy New Year!
It’s so good to see so many of you here today.  Of course, I am curious and have a lot of questions.  But I don’t want to embarrass you or myself, so I will try to phrase them in the most general way possible.  You don’t even have to raise your hands; just nod you head.  Okay, Question Number 1:  How many of you have either personally, or have known someone in your life who has made a New Year’s Resolution?  Okay.  Great.  Now, did any of those resolutions ever concern losing weight and getting into shape?  Or involve giving up something—like smoking or drinking alcohol?  You know, this is a great time for gyms and health clubs.  In January, everyone else has to deal with credit card statements from Christmas and all of that.  But the gym folks are counting on people buying year-long memberships and then quitting before February.  So they’ve got eleven months they can spend here on the beach in Santa Barbara, or in Kauai, or someplace else.  It isn’t fair, is it?

 Now, let me ask you:   how many of you, one year later, can honestly say that you have kept your New Year’s Resolution from 2013?  (No hands).  Thank you!  Now I don’t feel so bad.  Because I didn’t keep my resolution either!  So I don’t feel so bad.  Experts tell us that it takes a great deal to make a resolution stick.  We make resolutions as an act of our wills, and then, to our sorrow, realize sooner or later how weak and wobbly our wills really are.  We just can’t do it alone.  We are told that one of most important things we can do in making a resolution is to tell everyone about it, so they will hold us accountable.  Even more importantly, though, we need a support system, people around us who will encourage us in our decisions and help us to start over again if/ when we slip along the way.  We just can’t seem to make this sort of promise and keep it.

Our faith tradition gives us an entirely different perspective on making promise, though.  It actually turns our conventional wisdom upside down.  We are not so concerned with keep promises as we are in allowing Jesus, our Promised One, to keep us!  It’s not a matter of making up our minds and having our own will.  Rather, it is a function of surrendering our will to God and trusting that, just maybe, God might know what is better for us than we ourselves think.

That’s why it’s so instructive to enter into the sense of the Gospel of Luke today, on the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.  Mary made and kept her promise to God, but the Promise of God in Jesus also “kept” Mary, enabling her to trust God ever more deeply through the struggles of her life throughout her life.

Most of the stories we know about Mary come to us from the Gospel of Luke.  We have a very solid tradition which tells us that Mary shared her stories with the community of Luke and that they were subsequently included in the Gospel text.  It makes sense, doesn’t it?  How else would we know what we do about her? 

It’s as if we can hear her own voice in the “voice” of the Gospel, as she pondered all that had happened to her:  “There was the moment when the angel Gabriel asked me to be the mother of the Savior.  And I had to just stop for a moment to try to think it all through.  And all that it would mean to me.  Then, I went to see my cousin Elizabeth and the baby (John) leapt in her womb when we met.  And now, with the birth of the Child and these shepherds barging in out of nowhere—looking bad and smelling worse.  But when they saw Him, Jesus, they were absolutely transfixed and transformed.  And I had to stop and think again—ponder—about what all of this has meant.  How the promise of God has been unfolding in my life in ways that I never expected or could ever imagine.”

Mary’s narrative continues throughout Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.  We can experience her impressions and reactions to significant events throughout her life with Jesus, as she “ponders” in retrospect:  “Then, there was the day Joseph and I took the Child to the Temple for His name day and circumcision.  And Simeon told us that He would be the ‘rise and fall’ of many nations.  And how he turned to me, then, and predicted that a sword would pierce my heart.  I had no idea what he meant that day, but years later, when our Son was about twelve and we went to Jerusalem and thought we had lost Him.  Then, I remembered what Simeon said and I was worried sick and devastated that we had lost Him.  But then, here he comes skipping along like nothing had happened, and when He told us the things he had said to the scribes, I thought to myself:  “Where did He get all of this?  We didn’t tell Him these things?  He couldn’t have picked it all up in a place like Nazareth.”  Again, I really had to stop to think.  And ponder.”

“And then, years later,  there was this wedding we went to in Cana.  And I noticed how they were running out of wine and I thought, well, this couple is going to be really embarrassed.  And I turned to Him and mentioned it to Him.  And when he started to react, I just gave Him that look, and He helped.  I had no idea He was going to turn all that water into wine.  But when I saw what had happened, I just had to stop and think. And ponder.”

“Of course, He broke my heart.  And more than once.  Once, I went to hear Him preach and when someone told Him I was waiting outside along with some other family members, He came out with this, “Well, my mother and brothers are those who keep my Word,” and, of course, I was stunned and hurt.  And then I thought it over and realized, okay, He doesn’t belong to me anymore—if He ever did.  Now He belongs to everyone and I’ve got to step back and let Him go.”

“The worst part, though, was when they came to arrest Him.  And then tortured Him, mocked him, and put Him through this phony show trial before they marched Him off to His Death. When I stood at the foot of that Cross, I felt myself dying right along with Him.  And it took everything within me—everything—to hold onto that last slim thread of the promise God had made to me about him even before He was born.  I just wanted to die.  Right then and there.”

“And then, finally, when I was sitting in the room with His friends.  Friends?  Almost all of them had run off and abandoned Him when He really needed them.  But, never mind, I was there.  And then, all of a sudden, I felt the warm rushing wind of His Presence and Spirit.  And then, and only then, I finally was able to put together everything I had known and experienced about Him and realize how little I really new or understood from the very beginning.  It all had to play out over His lifetime and mine.  And I had to think it all through, carefully, until I saw the sense of it.”

Mary pondered.  She made a promise.  She kept her promise.  And God most certainly kept His Promise to her.  In Jesus.

And so it is with us.

Homily given at St. Barbara Parish, Old Mission Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, California.  January 1, 2014