You have probably heard the term “The Scandal of the Cross,” Christianity’s shocking claim that the Eternal God Himself was tortured to death in a manner usually reserved for the worst of criminals. That is only one, however, of a whole interconnected collection of Christian truth claims that are almost as shocking and scandalous.

The Mystical Nativity, by Sandro Botticelli. 1500-1501

     We celebrate one of those other claims today, on the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. The title might not sound quite as presumptuous in the original Greek formulation adopted at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., Θεοτόκος (theotokos), literally, “God-bearer”, but it’s still asking a lot of human credulity.  That old rascal Napoleon supposedly claimed to find Islam preferable to Christianity because it was “less ridiculous”, that is to say, less reliant on miracles and difficult concepts like the Trinity . . .  or Christ’s being, at the same time, a descendant of David and the Son of God.  But of course, Napoleon really believed in little other than himself.

     As Christians, on the other hand, we know that we are called to conform ourselves to the Truth, not to the impossible task of somehow conforming Divine Truth to ourselves. And so we find that the Divine Motherhood of Mary becomes a source, not of perplexity, but of profound awe and wonder. Along the way we also find ourselves pondering less profound but still compelling questions such as, “What is it like for a human mother, even one who is ‘full of Grace’, to bring forth and raise up the Second Person of the Trinity as her child?”

     That particular question is explored in the first of the three songs performed by Hayley Westenra in the video below.  “Mary Did You Know?”, written by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, was first recorded in 1991. In the subsequent thirty years it has been recorded by more than 30 different artists over a wide variety of genres.  It has also become much beloved of homilists; I first heard of the song fifteen years ago in a Christmas morning homily delivered by the bishop of Portland, Maine.  A large part of the song’s appeal, I think, is that it captures the awe and wonder of the Incarnation in such a personal way:

    Mary, did you know

That your baby boy will give sight to a blind man?

Mary, did you know

Your baby boy will calm a storm with his hand?

Did you know,

That your baby boy has walked where angels trod?

And when you kiss your little baby,

You’ve kissed the face of God.

   The second song in the medley is the old Basque carol “The Angel Gabriel’s Message.”  This lovely Marian song brings us back to the Annunciation.  We know that God gives us the freedom to say “no,” but the refrain “Most highly favored Lady” reminds us that he gives us all the Grace to do his will should we choose to say “yes.”  Mary was given the Grace to do something that God had never asked of anyone before her, and would never ask again . . . and so all generations call her “Blessed.”

The Annunciation, by Sandro Botticelli, c. 1485–1492

     Finally, “O Holy Night,” one of my favorite Christmas songs. “Holy” means “set aside for God.” What night could be Holier than that on which “Christ was born,” the Night on which the Eternal Word became Flesh and came into our world through the agency of a human mother, a young woman who dared to say “yes” to God?

Today, the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, is a good time to listen to some lovely music and think about what it means for the Eternal Word to become flesh as a little baby, born of a human mother named Mary.

In the video below I combined Hayley Westenra’s live recording with images from three magnificent painting by Sandro Botticelli: Madonna of the Book, 1480-1481, The Annunciation, c. 1485–1492, The Mystical Nativity, 1500-1501.
     Holy Mother of God, Pray For Us!

Featured image, top of page: Madonna of the Book, by Sandro Botticelli, 1480-1481

Marian Medley – Hayley Westenra

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