Are You Ready for a Party?

Are You Ready for a Party?

January 1, 2017 | HNMWebmaster | Christmas, Guest Deacons, Homilies, Joy, Mary, St. Luke

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God
January 1, 2017 – Year A

by Rev. Mr. Mike Stinson, Permanent Deacon, St. George, Scottsville
Readings: Nm 6:22-27 / Psalm 67 / Gal 4:4-7 / Lk 2:16-21

Are you ready for a party? Maybe it’s the wrong morning to ask that question. Maybe this morning I should ask, are you trying to recover from a party? But you don’t have to answer that if you don’t want to.

Parties are on my mind this time of year, but not just because it’s New Year’s Day. New Year’s Eve is also my Dad’s birthday, and we always celebrate with him, and we did again last night, but that’s not the only other reason.

I also think of parties at the beginning of every year because January 1st is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. It’s the day we remember the proclamation of the first Marian Dogma — that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is the Mother of God, and that the Church teaches that it’s proper to honor Mary with this name.

And you might think — what does that have to do with a party? It sounds more like you’re about to give a theology lecture. I’m not, but I will tell you a short story.

It was the year 431 AD, and exciting things were happening in Ephesus. That’s a city along the western coast of what we now call the nation of Turkey. More than 200 bishops of the Church were meeting in Ephesus, and they were there because of a controversy.

There had been arguments about the ideas of a bishop named Nestorius. Many of the other bishops disagreed with some things he was teaching about Jesus. Among other things, Nestorius said that it was wrong to call Mary the Mother of God. He said that Mary was the Mother of Jesus, the man — but not the Mother of God.

During their meeting, the bishops condemned some of the teachings of Nestorius. They decided that it is right to call Mary the Mother of God. And although it wasn’t New Year’s Day when that happened — there was a party.

People were waiting outside the place where the bishops were meeting, to hear the news. And one description says that when their decision was announced, “The people of Ephesus, full of rejoicing, escorted the fathers to their houses with torches and incense.”

They were celebrating in the streets — in other words, a spontaneous party broke out because the bishops had affirmed that Mary was the Mother of God.

Now, I know that not everyone gets quite that excited about theology. But the people of Ephesus might have had more affection for Mary than average Christians, because tradition says Mary lived her last years on earth at a small house near Ephesus. Maybe that helps explain their joy — and maybe we can learn something from their excitement.

Last night, the whole world was partying, as 2016 gave way to 2017. People celebrate for different reasons on New Year’s Eve — that we’ve survived for another year; that many of us don’t have to go to work today; that we get a fresh start.

But how is last night’s partying different from our celebration today? Because a lot of people who were partying last night are not at Mass today.

Well, not everyone in Ephesus back in 431 AD was ready to party, either. Nestorius had asked for the meeting with the other bishops, and he hoped that his beliefs about Jesus would be confirmed, not rejected.

Nestorius also had allies, and when his views were condemned, one of them, a security guard named  “Candidian … had the notices of the Council’s decision “torn down, and silenced” the people celebrating “in the streets.” (Catholic Encyclopedia, New Advent)

Nestorius himself left town, and went to live in a monastery for the rest of his life, and some of the other bishops agreed with Nestorius and Candidian, and this caused conflict in the church. They didn’t think there was reason for a party.

So why such a big fuss about this decision? Because these Christians knew that what we call Mary is more important than just whether or not we get to have a party. It has to do with who we think Jesus is. Because whatever we say about Mary, we say because of Jesus.

Today is the eighth day of the Christmas season, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus, a human baby who was also God. Jesus received his humanity from his human mother – Mary. And because Jesus was also God, we call Mary the Mother of God. That’s what Christians were celebrating in Ephesus.

And we believe the same thing. So does the birth of Jesus make us want to have a party, and shout, and dance in the street (whether or not you actually can dance)?

Not just because it’s Christmas, and we like Christmas parties — but because of what Christmas really means for us. Because it doesn’t mean the same thing for everyone.

Plenty of people today accept the humanity of Jesus, but want to deny his divinity. They believe there was a real man named Jesus who was executed by the Romans in about 30 AD, but they don’t think this man was also God, the Eternal Word, the second person of the Trinity, by whom all things were created, and in whom we have hope of eternal life.

But we do believe those things. And calling Mary the Mother of God is a way to emphasize the divinity of Jesus today, when people don’t want to believe it, just like it was more than 1500 years ago. So does it matter what we call Mary? Yes, it does. (And yes, I realize that I’m asking this question in a parish called Holy Name of Mary!)

Around the world today, not everyone is celebrating. They might have been partying last night, but not today. Not everyone was happy in Ephesus when Mary was proclaimed Mother of God — and not everyone is happy today about the idea that Jesus is both human and God. But we know he is.

So — I repeat my question: are you ready for a party? Maybe you would still say, “not right now!” Maybe last night is still wearing off. But we’re not at a party, are we? We’re at Mass.

At every Mass we give thanks that Jesus died for us. His death is made present for us as we remember his sacrifice. But we also remember that he’s alive, and that we have life in him. So there’s a reason for joy and celebration at every Mass because of who Jesus is.

I’m not saying that we should turn Mass into a party. Mass is not a party — it’s better than a party. And as we give thanks for Jesus, and we give thanks to Jesus, and as we receive Jesus in the Eucharist, we can also ask him to renew our joy in who he is, and who his mother is.

Jesus is here. And because he is, we can have the same joy that the Christians did in Ephesus centuries ago, when they partied in the streets, when they heard these words: Jesus is God — and Mary is the Mother of God.