But you, O Bethlehem of Ephrathah, who are one of the little clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days. Therefore he shall give them up until the time when she who is in labour has brought forth; then the rest of his kindred shall return to the people of Israel.
And he shall stand and feed his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord his God. And they shall live secure, for now he shall be great to the ends of the earth; and he shall be the one of peace.
We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, 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 firstborn within a large family. And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, 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 Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”
All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”
Exactly when and where Our Lady was born is not recorded in the New Testament; but most likely she was born about sixteen years before the birth of Jesus, in the village of Nazareth, where the Gospel locates her for the first time, at the Annunciation (Lk 1:26 ). It was only after the Council of Ephesus in 431–when Mary was designated as “Theotokos ” (“Mother of God”)–that devotion to her was widely spread in the Western Church. But well before that time, the exceptional circumstances of her birth were warmly remembered and celebrated among the Christians of Palestine.
An important, 2nd-century Christian text, the Protevangelium of James, suggests that Mary was born near Jerusalem, since her parents, Joachim and Anne, brought her to the temple at a very early age. Today would be a good time to read, or re-read, this Protevangelium (pre-Gospel) story, to share its warm, devotional reflection upon the special graces granted at Mary’s birth. The author, probably a second century Jewish Christian, tells of her parents eagerly longing for a child; and when eventually God granted her to them, they wished to dedicate her, body and soul, to the service of God in the Jerusalem temple.
She, who was to bring our Savior into the world, would prove a loving tabernacle of flesh for the living God, for in her womb, by the power of the Spirit, the incarnate Son of God was conceived and carried. As his greatness would reach to the ends of the earth, so (says the Protevangelium) the grace of God was visible in his mother, from the beginning. According to this text, when Mary’s father, Joachim, brought his offerings in the temple, he knew that the Lord has blessed him; and he went down to his own house. “And after nine months Anna bore a child. And she said to the midwife: “What have I delivered?” and she said: “A girl.” And Anna said: “My soul has been magnified this day!” and she laid her down. And in due time, Anna was purified, and she suckled the child and called her name Mary.
The hallmark and driving force of Mary’s life was loving obedience to the will of God. This too must be the motivation of any who call themselves Christians, sharing in the very life of Christ Jesus himself. The lead up to the arrival of our Saviour began with the birth of Mary, daughter of Joachim and Anne. With delight we rejoice in the Lord who has been good to us through this great-hearted girl from Nazareth!
We remember the birthdays of those who are significant for us in life. We also remember the birthday of those who are significant for our faith life. The most significant person in terms of our faith life as Christians is, of course, Jesus, and we remember his birthday on Christmas day. Next to Jesus, Mary is the most significant person for the faith life of many Christians, and it is only fitting that the church remembers her birthday. It is impossible to know when exactly Mary was born, but September 8 has traditionally been the day when the church celebrates Mary’s birthday.
When we wish someone a happy birthday we are, in a sense, giving thanks for that person’s birth and life. Today we give thanks for Mary’s birth and life. Today’s Gospel has to do with the birth of Jesus, rather than the birth of Mary, and that is only right and fitting. We celebrate Mary’s birth and life because of the birth of Jesus, because she became the mother of the Saviour. She is the one through whom we receive Emmanuel, God-with-us. Mary doesn’t offer us herself; she offers us her Son. She holds out her Son to us. She would have been happy to make her own the words of John the Baptist in relation to himself: “He, Jesus, must increase, but I must decrease.” The best way to honour Mary is to receive the Son of God whom she offers to us, to become, like herself, people who, in the words of Luke’s gospel, “hear the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patient endurance.” [MH]