The fourth gospel (The Gospel of John) is considered by most scripture scholars to be the most theologically profound Gospel in the New Testament begins, the one written by the "beloved disciple" named John. The Gospel of John begins with these words:
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.... AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH AND DWELT AMONG US" (John 1:1,14)
Probably the last gospel to be written, this Gospel contains the inspired mature reflection of the early Church. In my own tradition, this first chapter was recited at the conclusion of every liturgy for centuries. It was called the "Last Gospel". Within these pregnant words we plumb the depths of the meaning and mystery of the Incarnation.
These words, rendered in English "dwelt among us" in the biblical text, are literally rendered "He pitched His tent among us." Think about it. The God of the whole universe, who dwelt in inaccessible light, whom no man had ever seen and lived, became a real man and pitched His home among us!
God lived (lives) among us. He became one of us. He felt as we felt. He laughed, wept, belonged to a family, feared, felt abandoned and was tempted, in it all to "sin", to make the wrong choice. He did not do so.
Because He was fully divine, He was able to overcome the consequences of our own sin and restore us to a new relationship with God. Because He was fully human He showed us the way and has given us all we need to follow that same path. How? First, He not only "paid the penalty" for our wrong choices and satisfied the debt of justice caused by our sin, but He has, through His life, death and Resurrection, enabled us now to live in a new way, to have a new relationship with God!
The author of the letter to the Hebrews in the New Testament speaks of Jesus Christ, the High priest and tells us: "... we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are- yet was without sin." Hebrews 4:15
This humanity of Jesus was and is no threat to His divinity. There is an "asymmetry" to this profound truth. It is not "either/or" but "both/and." Jesus "gets it." In Him, God became fully human without losing His divinity. He was both fully human and fully divine.
This Incarnation of Jesus Christ reveals the very essence of Christianity and contains within it the destiny of every member of the human race who will choose Him. This claim has been challenged throughout the two thousand year history of Christianity. It has withstood the threat of heretics and helped to overcome the fears of broken and wounded men and women in every age.
The Incarnation tells us that each one of us is invited into eternity. We are called into a process of conversion, transformation, transfiguration; all leading to what the early church had the audacity to call being "deified" or "divinized". Though these are still terms that are used in Eastern Christianity, they have fallen out of use as theological terms in the West.
The word "theotokos" emphasizes the true humanity of Jesus as well as His divinity. He was born of a real, human mother. The word became flesh within her. That Word en-fleshed was literally born through her. It also emphasizes the humanity of Mary. She had that baby as every woman bears a son.
It is not only a sad fact of our history as Christians that this title has become a source of our divisions, it is also sad that we sometimes think that Mary's pregnancy and delivery was any different than every woman. She was every woman, only given fully over to God!
Fortunately, the language of "anathema" is being replaced these days with authentic efforts geared toward reconciliation between Christians. It is so unfortunate that this very expression "God-bearer" has become such a point of division in the family of the Christian Church.
I am convinced that the one person who is probably most upset about it all is Mary. This humble Virgin of Nazareth called no attention to herself. She always pointed to her Son. She still does! However, the truth protected by this early Church Council is important for all who still desire to understand the Christian faith and live the spiritual life. When we translate the Greek term "theotokos" as "bearer of God", (a perfectly legitimate and semantically accurate rendering of the term) we discover something that is a great treasure. It reveals the deeper meaning of Mary.
The prayer of Mary is the fruit of a way of life. It is a way of living, loving, responding, giving and bearing God for others. All of us are called to "bear" God. We make his love present in our lives by our "fiat". The process of "bearing" Christ is to be symbolically repeated in and through each one of us. When we pray the "Prayer of Mary" we open ourselves up to becoming a place where the Word continually becomes flesh. We become the kind of people through whom God's love can be born anew every day. He pitches His tent.
This mystery concerning Mary is also the mystery of the meaning and mission of the Church. In fact, the very comparison of the two reveals an ancient Christian parallelism. From antiquity the Church was viewed as a "mother" bringing Christ into the world. In my own tradition as a Catholic Christian, as well as in Orthodox Christianity, the Church is still called "mother". The early Christian Fathers were the first to draw the parallel between the maternity of Mary and the maternity of the Church.
Her response to the messenger from God, her receptivity, her humility, her obedience, her servants' heart... were all seen as a "type" of the proper response of every follower of her Son, Jesus. This way of surrendered love is intended to be the way of the whole Church which is the "seed" of the "kingdom." The Church is to be to the world a "seed" of what it is to become when the fullness of redemption is complete! (See e.g. Romans 8)
My wonderful wife has an extraordinarily green thumb. She has transformed the grounds of every home in which we have lived over all these years together. I grow more fascinated by the process as the hairs on my head gray. Within those seeds is contained the entire genetic structure of the beauty that will be the plant fully grown. She has known that for a long time. Women seem to be able to grasp the mystery at a deeper level. Maybe that is why the apostle Paul reminds us that: "When the time had fully come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons" (Gal. 4:4)
Mary's response of bringing forth of the Word Incarnate through her "Fiat", her "Yes" was understood in ancient Christian sources as a "type" of the mission of every baptized Christian and of the entire Church. Orthodox and Eastern Catholic iconography rarely portrays Mary alone. She is always "bringing forth" Christ.
For those who can grasp it -and who choose to live it - the prayer and the life of Mary opens up the meaning of the Christian vocation and the meaning of life itself. The seed is the word that is planted within each of us. We are all to become the seed that is planted within the world.
The "Magnificat" of Mary was more than a one time song. It was the framework for a life-song, a canticle, a way and a dance of love with the Lord; whom she loved and who invited her -and each of us- into an eternal relationship.
May this prayer now become our life-song, our canticle and our dance? For the world still longs for the fullness of love that we are all called to bear. Mary had God "to herself". Yet, she gave Him away. God is love. She gave love away. That is Mary's way. Let us resolve to make it our way as well.
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