Observant Catholics went to Mass twice this past weekend. On Friday, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Mother of God while Sunday was the Feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany has been moved in the U.S. to Sunday rather than its traditional January 6th date - which is one month after the Feast of St. Nicholas - in Europe, St. Nick's and 3 Kings Day are when gifts are given, not Christmas. Some would argue that the New Years holy day is an attempt to hijack the secular holiday. If so, it would not be the first time.
As has been my wont this season, I will comment on the Gospel of each feast (I was sick on the Feast of the Holy Family, having spent the prior night in the ER with tachycardia - so I did not write about that Gospel). I am cross posting to both my Street Prophets page and to my Examiner page. I have ignored Street Prophets to date, which was an oversight.
The key verse from the New Year's Gospel is probably one of the most important of the entire season for understanding what happens later: Mary kept all these things and reflected upon them in her heart. Of late, it has been fashionable in biblical scholarship to consider the Nativity story as an add on to the Gospel. I disagree - largely because of this verse. It clearly identifies Mary as the source for this narrative and confirms her presence in the early Church. It also identifies how Jesus found out about his own divine nature. Many suppose that Jesus had a two track mind - one divine and one human. This does not comport to him being fully human, however. Jesus was not some superman - rather he was the ultimate "Man of Faith," who was likely told of the events of his birth by his mother (whom he challenged in the Holy Family Gospel with what seems like inside knowledge between the two of them that he was in fact teaching in His Father's House). He then confirmed this knowledge with a reading of the Scriptures. It was not until his baptism by John, which we celebrate next week, that he was offered the assurance of miracles.
Some may find this a debasing of Jesus. I consider it an exultation. He did not make it easy on himself, rather he depended on faith, just as he asks us to depend on faith in Him. Of course, faith in the Man of Faith is a lot harder than faith in a superman.
This also has an impact on human salvation. For milennia, people have been wondering what brought Jesus to the point of abandonment, where he echoed the 22nd Psalm and cried out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" Seating Mary as the source of his knowledge of himself solves that problem. By entrusting her to John's care (rather than commanding John to preach the Gospel) he puts away both his mission and his divinity (which he was first told of by her). She likely could not even look at him at this point, so broken was her heart. This abandonment gave him direct experience of the isolation of sinner, an experience God could not have had without the incarnation, so that we can go to Jesus because he came to us first.
On the topic of challenging what we have been taught, I find it rich that in recent years the use of Astrology in locating Jesus has been downplayed by the Church, using the words "wise men" or "magi" instead. This is on, since both words translate to Wizard. While this may make for an interesting J.K. Rowling nativity story, ignoring the role of astrology leaves something out. Astrology would be the only way Jesus could be found by the Magi. The conjunctions present at his birth had meaning to them (a meaning that was probably lost on the Gospel writers, who misuse the terminology - because likely the Gospel writers and their source (Mary) knew nothing of Astrology). According to later research, these conjunctions showed the birth of a Great King of the Jews. If there were a star to be followed at all, it would have been an eclipse of the Sun - although it would have taken some intricate calculation to pinpoint the house at which Jesus was born.
Of course, acknowledging that the new King of the Jews could be found using astrology is to provide support for the veracity of astrology, which is a problem for a religion which is deathly afraid of anything associated with paganism. This mainly comes from two factors - one political and one epistemological. Politically, paganism is associated with Roman rule and attempts by the Romans to force the Christians to acknowledge the divinity of the Emperor. The whole point of the first Commandment is that no earthly authority is divine (a sentiment lost on some papal apologists) - and worse is kleptocratic. God is beyond all that - indeed Jesus, while divine, acted through faith rather than divine power. The second epistemological point is a misunderstanding of what paganism really is. Unless one actually believes that there are pagan gods, it is pretty clear that paganism is an exploration of the archetypes of human personality. It is more likely that paganism was created from astrology, rather than astrology existing as an outgrowth of paganism. Taken that way, we have nothing to fear from paganism itself - although we still have much to fear from hubris.
It is better to take the humble example of the Man of Faith who started as the humble infant in the manger than to emulate Caesar and Herod the Great.