On this solemnity, I find myself considering less the regal images of Mary and her infant King-God-Son, and the more human images of her.
Mary, the young girl-become-mother;
Mary, whose unexpected and untimely pregnancy could have led to her being stoned to death;
Mary, who had to face Joseph's questions and doubts prior to his revelatory dream;
Mary, whose own saintly parents must have initially been horribly disappointed in her - and who never received any signs from God to change their minds, as far as we know;
Mary, who, with Joseph, probably had to endure gossip, jokes, and judgmental stares from the people of her village who knew everybody else's business;
Mary, who made a dangerous journey to help her older, pregnant cousin, Elizabeth - and then made the return journey while very pregnant;
Mary, who, with Joseph, had to make a five- to seven- day trip from Galilee to Bethlehem just prior to giving birth;
Mary and Joseph, unable to find shelter, welcoming the King of Kings into the world as a homeless, cold, babe - far from extended family and friends;
Mary, who soon after giving birth found herself a political refugee, along with her husband and newborn.
It's too easy to forget the dangers that surrounded Mary, the virgin Mother of God, when she was simply Mary, the unwed mother - the butt of jokes, perhaps despised and condemned by some who had been friends. The honor we give her now was unknown to her then, and we might well have looked askance at her as her contemporaries probably did.
We must never forget that God may well ask us to do things that go against the grain of the world, since his ways are not our ways. The more our local parish and our families are "of this world," the more difficult it is to hear God's voice, the more difficult it is to answer His invitation to do His will with an affirmative, and the more difficult it is to do it.
Mary had tremendous faith: faith in God's ability to act in the world - and especially in her, someone who would have counted for nothing in her day. She had tremendous trust in God's love for her, or else how could she take such a huge, life-threatening risk? She had to believe that God's ways are not our ways, and that although she couldn't see where God was leading her, it would be for good. You have to admit, the promise given her by Gabriel, "you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, 11 and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end" is pretty short on details in the timeframe that most of us would be interested in - like, say, tomorrow, the next week, and the next month or so.
Mary is not only Mother of God, she is our mother, too. Part of the reason we are adopted sons and daughters of God. Let's pray as we begin this new year that we might take after her, who is the image of the Church as well as the mother given us by her son, Jesus.