8 Tue Sep 2009
We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose.
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the first-born among many brethren.
And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,
and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram,
and Ram the father of Ammin’adab, and Ammin’adab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon,
and Salmon the father of Bo’az by Rahab, and Bo’az the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uri’ah,
and Solomon the father of Rehobo’am, and Rehobo’am the father of Abi’jah, and Abi’jah the father of Asa,
and Asa the father of Jehosh’aphat, and Jehosh’aphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzzi’ah,
and Uzzi’ah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezeki’ah,
and Hezeki’ah the father of Manas’seh, and Manas’seh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josi’ah,
and Josi’ah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoni’ah was the father of She-al’ti-el, and She-al’ti-el the father of Zerub’babel, and Zerub’babel the father of Abi’ud, and Abi’ud the father of Eli’akim, and Eli’akim the father of Azor,
and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eli’ud,
and Eli’ud the father of Elea’zar, and Elea’zar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob,
and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
Now the birth of Jesus Christ took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been betrothed to Joseph, before they came together she was found to be with child of the Holy Spirit; and her husband Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.
But as he considered this, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit;
she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:
“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and his name shall be called Emmanuel”
(which means, God with us).
We human beings have a natural joyful response to the birth of children. It is conception which marks the beginning of a new human being, but birth marks the entry of that human being into human history. It is by being born that we come into contact with other humans, and become part of their lives and they become a part of ours. The Bible takes the view that birth marks our entanglement in human history, our messy participation in the rebellion of humankind against its God. In the Psalms it says, ‘Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me’ (Psalm 51.5). In Ezekiel the Lord says to Israel, ‘on the day that you were born… [I] saw you weltering in your blood’ (Ezekiel 16.5-6), and elsewhere it is written, ‘For all who have been born are entangled in iniquity; and are full of sins and burdened with transgressions’ (2 Esdras 7.68).
In the Scriptures this world—because it is in a state of rebellion against God—is called ‘sin’. The Word who became flesh for us is re-cast as the Word who became ‘sin’ for us. St Paul says, ‘For our sake [God] made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5.21). Christ, the incarnate Word of God, is ‘sin who knew no sin’. By his birth Christ became part of human history, part of humankind’s rebellion against God. But he himself was not a rebel because he was perfectly obedient to the Father’s will. He became ‘sin’, that is, he became one of us. But he ‘knew no sin’, because he is the Father’s obedient Son, and by his obedience we have been made righteous sons and daughters of God.
If Christ is ‘sin who knew no sin’, then as his mother, Mary is the mother of ‘sin who knew no sin’. Through the thorough redemption God achieved in her, Mary was never in rebellion against God. She is the sinless mother of ‘sin’. And as she is the mother of ‘sin’, she is the mother of sinners, for her child, ‘sin who knew no sin’, was born for us sinners.
In being born we leave the security of the womb, and are driven out forcibly into the world, into the arms of human history, to be entangled with other people and not to remain solitary in the womb anymore. Today we celebrate the birth of Mary, who was driven out from her mother’s womb that she might be caught up in human history, to take her place in the human family. She was expelled from the womb that she might be the mother of ‘sin who knew no sin’, and thus a sign of the new creation which is achieved in Christ. Our first parents were driven out of Eden, out of the natural bliss which God had given them and into the world of sin, with the way back blocked by cherubim with swords of fiery flame. Today we celebrate the birth of Our Lady, driven out of the security of her mother’s womb, out into the world which is sin; and she who is higher than the cherubim and more glorious than the seraphim accepted to live in this ‘vale of tears’, to become the mother of ‘sin who knew no sin’ and consequently to become the mother of sinners.
Because of her Son whom God made to be ‘sin who knew no sin’, we have something far more exalted and glorious than the simple return to Eden. A return to Eden would have meant a pretence that nothing had happened at all, as though we could return to the security of the womb and ignore all our ties in the world—ties of friendship, of love and indeed, of sin. Because of Christ, everyone in Christ is ‘a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come’ (2 Corinthians 5.17). It is not a movement backwards, as though sin could be undone in a way that pretended it had never been. It is a movement forwards, beyond sin, showing to the whole world that there is a Power greater than sin which can swallow it up and transform it. When Christ rose from the dead, he did not return to an ordinary mode of human life. The resurrection is not a mere resuscitation. Christ’s wounds are not erased as though they had not happened. The Risen Christ bears the marks of his passion and death, but they are symbols of death swallowed up by Life itself. They are marks of glory and not of shame. As St Paul says, ‘For while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life’ (2 Corinthians 5.4).
The birth of the sinless Mother of ‘sin who knew no sin’ shows us that we need not fear the world. Our Saviour tells us, ‘In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world’ (John 16.33). In Christ we are already his new creation, and though we are in the world we are not of the world. We must not be afraid of this world into which we are driven, for this world has been redeemed by Christ. While we, the banished children of Eve, may sigh and weep in this ‘valley of tears’, we do not lose our hope in Christ, for Christ has overcome the world. Our sufferings, our sorrows, our sins will not become as though they had never mattered, but they will be transformed in Christ. These marks of death will be swallowed up by life, sin will be swallowed up by forgiveness, sorrow taken up into unalloyed joy—and these, our scars, will be windows into glory.
Mary, mother of ‘sin who knew no sin’, pray for us poor sinners. Amen.
Scripture passage from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright 1989, 1993, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.