Nativity and Epiphany

One of the things I love about being Catholic is the liturgical calendar. Liturgical seasons were something completely unknown to me before except as a vague notion that some churches had them.  In our church we celebrated Christmas and Easter (and very beautifully, I might add!), but there weren’t any other officially recognized days to be celebrated.  However, in the Catholic Church, there are oodles of feast days, fast days, solemnities, and reasons to be reminded of the life of Our Lord and why He came to earth as a very human baby.

This past Sunday we celebrated the solemnity of the Holy Family and as we heard part of the account of the birth of Christ, I pondered on something I don’t think many people have considered.  Who told the Four Evangelists about Bethlehem?  About the shepherds?  And angels?  Joseph’s dreams?  Today we celebrate Epiphany–the visit of the Three Wise Men to the newborn King.  Who told about it?  After all, God doesn’t use miracles when normal means are available.

Who told about Gabriel’s visit to Zechariah and to Mary?  About John the Baptist leaping in his mother’s womb?  Or about Simeon’s prophecy and Anna’s joy?  Or about Jesus disappearing for three days in Jerusalem at the age of 12?  Who related what actually happened at Cana?  Even though the disciples were there, that doesn’t mean they were in on the conversation between Jesus and Mary or knew what instructions He gave the servants.

Often objections to the beliefs and teachings about Mary are raised because she doesn’t have a prominent place in Scripture, but perhaps that’s because we’ve missed the obvious.  Scripture tells us that Mary treasured, or hid, these things in her heart.  She didn’t tell anybody at the time, she simply kept them to herself.

However, Mary knew and was known by the disciples while they traveled with Jesus.  Can’t you just hear them around the fire some night asking her for stories about Jesus?

“Mary, your turn, tell us a story!”

“Yes, tell us one on Jesus this time!”

Smiling, she might have looked at Jesus and said, “Well, there was the time He gave His father and I the scare of our lives!”

Jesus would have chuckled, looking at His mother with tender love, but also a little embarrassment at the scare He had unwittingly given them at the tender age of twelve.

“Tell on, Mother!  At least you can smile over it now!”

“Well, it was the time of Passover the year Jesus was twelve and we were all in Jerusalem…”

Did they tease Jesus a little for scaring His mother?  And what wonder they must have felt when she told His explanation for His absence.

Since today is Epiphany, I wonder what their reaction was when she told about the Magi’s visit, the dreams of warning given to them and to Joseph about Herod, and their flight into Egypt?  What was the sense in the atmosphere when they realized that Jesus was born in Bethlehem–the only man his age who was born there?  Remember, all other male children were killed by Herod.  There were no other Bethlehemite men Jesus’ age.  What a sobering connection for the disciples to make when they heard it.  At what point was Mary finally able to quietly tell the story, realizing that her Child alone lived while the others died.  She and Joseph didn’t know all of Herod’s plan; they only knew he would search for Jesus.  They couldn’t warn the others in town because they never imagined what Herod would do.  What horror did she feel when she heard of it?  Did she weep as she recounted the story?

When I read the scriptures, these are things I think about.  After all, Jesus was a real man who lived a real life in a real town with real human emotions, experiences, troubles, joys, etc.  Mary reminds us that this is the reality.  In fact, I believe God put her in the scriptures, in history, in our own lives to remind us that Jesus was not an abstract idea or glorified super-person in history, but a real Man, a real Savior.  He is fully God and fully Man–a real Man, with a mother whom He loved deeply and who He shares with all of us who call Him our brother.  And, like any good mother, Mary told the stories of the family’s history and memories.  Just because no one gave her credit for it shouldn’t bother us.  After all, the apostles never name themselves as the authors of their books either except in indirect ways.  None of them were in it for the glory or the publishing credit, but to bring the Gospel to every person in the world.

As we celebrate these feast days, remember that this is the reason the Church reminds us every year of the life of our Lord and why He came:  To continue to share the Gospel with every person who still needs to know that there’s a Savior, come from Heaven above, born of a virgin, raised by parents, who lived as a man, and who died to pay for our sins and conquer death by rising from it, so that Heaven’s doors could be opened to all who will believe.  Let’s share the story as Mary did.