Why is this day listed as so important? It is a holy day of obligation, and so soon after Christmas. Why should we be concerned that Mary is called the Mother of God? This was an old battle in the church. It surfaced in the fourth century. There was a priest named Arius who taught that Mary was just the mother of Jesus.
But there were a few bishops who stood for the truth that Mary must be called the Mother of God. Among them was a bishop named St. Nicholas who we know now as Santa Claus. According to some legends, he was so angry with this priest Arius that he punched him in the face! Yes, St. Nicholas! Father Christmas!
But why is it so important? What difference does it make? This has to do with the union of the divine and human natures of Jesus in the one person. If you say that Mary was “just the mother of Jesus,” and not the Mother of God, you are challenging the very core of the Incarnation.
So, this feast day of Mary the Mother of God is more about who Jesus is then just about who Mary is. Claiming that Mary is the Mother of God is a declaration regarding the existence of God as a human being in space and time.
Now, this is a bit of side trip, but I think it explains a lot. This priest Arius spread his heretical approach to who Jesus is all around the Mediterranean. And it is guessed that it continued even after the church made the declaration that Mary must be called the Mother of God. It was a heresy that was hard to break. And it continued into the time of Mohammed in certain places.
This heresy is what Mohammed put in the Koran about who Jesus is. He does not consider him divine, though he does call him a prophet. He does honor Mary, in some ways. But he does not admit to a correct understanding of who Jesus is. As I said, this was a bit of a side trip, but it was important to understand the historical nature of how this heresy continues down to this day. And Islam is not the only religion that has bought into this heresy today. Other groups that claim to be Christian also teach the same thing.
It is of utmost importance that we hold on to this theological statement about who Jesus is. There are those who want to ignore this truth, but they do so at the risk of destroying the very core of what our faith says. The incarnation of God in Jesus forms the very basis of our understanding of God’s choice to save us from sin. If Jesus is not the God-man, if he is not divine and human, he could not offer himself for the salvation of the world.
There are, unfortunately, those who think that salvation is not something of any importance. There are those who want to dismiss the salvific nature of the action of Jesus. If Jesus did not offer an infinite sacrifice for the sake of our sins, then we have not been forgiven. Even the smallest offense against God, the smallest of sins, is an offense against an infinitely holy God. So it requires an infinitely perfect sacrifice. God is the only one who could save us. And he had to do that by becoming one of us.
Now, that is common knowledge for those of us who are following the faith. But there are those in the world who do not understand it. In fact, they openly reject it. And some of them claim to be Christian!
It is absolutely necessary that we refer to Mary as the Mother of God. But, as I said at the start, this is more about who Jesus is than about who Mary is. When St. Nicholas and the other bishops in his day gathered to sort out the truth regarding the person of Jesus, they used some very precise words. I have chosen not to use those words, but describe it in other ways.
There were actually three Greek words that were thrown around in their day. Two of them they accepted as the truth; one they rejected. The one they rejected was the position of the priest Arius. Thank God for the bishops in that day who held to the truth, despite massive opposition. Words make a difference. And we need to know how to speak the truth. Jesus is the God-man. He is God made flesh. Because of this we have salvation.
There have been challenges to this throughout the history of Christianity, because it is so hard to conceive if you do not have the eyes of faith. But thanks be to God that we see with eyes clear of heresy: Mary is the Mother of God; Jesus is God made flesh; he has brought us salvation. This is not just the Christmas message, it is the Christian message, as the reading from Galatians today said: “you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.” Amen.