The biggest mystery in Christianity is the Incarnation. How could God be fully God and fully human? The doctrine of the two natures of Christ in one person is as important as the doctrine of the Trinity. What the Athanasian Creed is to the doctrine of the Trinity, the Council of Chalcedon (451) is to the divine and human natures of Christ.
As I read and reflected on the lectionary readings, the Collect and the Proper Preface for the first Sunday after Christmas, I was struck by the Rite I Preface. (This is similar to the Preface for Christmas Day in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.) The Proper Preface (part of the Great Thanksgiving prayer) for the first Sunday after Christmas reads:
“Because thou didst give Jesus Christ, thine only Son, to be born for us; who, by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost, was made very Man of the substance of the Virgin Mary his mother; that we might be delivered from the bondage of sin, and receive power to become thy children.”
This captivated me. God has a way of quickening a particular word or phrase to make them stand out. The word “substance”, in particular really started me thinking. Wasn’t that same word used in a phrase from the Nicene Creed? (p 327 BCP) “Very God of very God, begotten not made, being of one substance with the Father. Jesus Christ is not ‘like’ God He is God. Jesus Christ is not ‘like’ humans He is human.
What does it mean that Jesus Christ was fully human? He is the product of a lineage begun with God’s promise to Eve that the redeemer would come from her lineage. That is also the point in the beginning of St. Matthew’s Gospel in chapter one verse one where he states, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." St. Paul states in Galatians, “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, 'And to offspring’s,' referring to many, but referring to one, 'And to your offspring', who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16) Jesus Christ, to be fully human meant that He was the product of both God and Mary.
Mary was not simply a container that held the baby Jesus until He was born. Jesus had Mary’s DNA. To be fully human, the genetic material that made up Jesus had to come from Mary also. Mary was chosen by God not just to contain and deliver Jesus into this world, but also to contribute genetically and behaviorally to the man that Jesus would become. Jesus would be the Son of God but He would also be his mother’s Son.
Coming back to the idea that the Father and Son are of the same substance, Jesus said to Philip, "Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, 'Show us the Father'? (John 14:9)
And I would add, to know Jesus better, let’s now look at his mother Mary. I believe that God chose her not only because she was a virgin but it would also mean both a miraculous birth and one that was prophesied in the Old Testament. She also had the disposition and characteristics that would help Jesus, as he developed into a man. Only Mary had the ‘right stuff’ as we would say today. Jesus would be the new Adam. As St. Paul states in 1st Corinthians, “So it is written: 'The first man Adam became a living being'; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit.” (15:45) Mary would become the new Eve. Eve was the mother of all humans after the flesh but Mary is the spiritual mother of all those who are in Christ. Revelations, states, “Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and bear testimony to Jesus. And he stood on the sand of the sea.”
Let’s look at some of Mary’s Characteristics. In Luke, we hear the Angel say to Mary “Hail full of grace the Lord is with you.” (1:28, RSVCE). In John’s Gospel we hear, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (1:14)
Again from Luke, we hear Mary say, “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her.” In this case we see both the fact that she saw herself as a servant of God. It was a submissive obedience and a willingness to trust God. In short, she was a woman of faith. Jesus states, “For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.” (Luke 22:27) This also reflects the prophesy in Isaiah 53 of the suffering servant.
When Mary states, “Let it be to me according to your word.” There is an acceptance of God’s will. When Christ was in the Garden of Gethsemane He stated, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.” (Luke 22: 42).
In the Magnificat also called the “Song of Mary”, Mary begins by saying, “My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid.” And in the case of Jesus we hear St. Paul state in Philippians, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”
Mary modeled obedience. Her Son Jesus performed His first public miracle at the wedding feast of Cana by turning the water into wine. His mother asked Him to do it, and in obedience to and out of respect for her, He performed the miracle. He did this reluctantly because He was not yet ready to reveal His true nature. What Mary told the servants, she would tell all Christians. “Do whatever He tells you.”
So with Mary, we have the qualities of humility, grace, faithfulness, trust, obedience, submission and the heart of a servant. Her Son Jesus reflected those qualities that were her genetic and behavioral endowment to Him. I wonder when He listed the beatitudes in His sermon on the mount if He was also reflecting on at least some of these qualities in His own mother. Jesus Christ Son of God and Son of Mary.