By Divine excellence, far from being a heresy, it is truly right and just to affirm that Maria is both the first human to celebrate Christmas, and the first human to become a Christian. This double privilege was attained just by one fact – namely, her very womb contained God in the flesh (John 1:14; see Is 7:14); God in the Person of Jesus became man in her womb and dwelt among us. Thus, firstly, being the first who welcomed Him by giving Him flesh, she is qualified to be the first Christmas celebrant. Secondly, by equally giving birth to Him, she as well becomes the first follower of Christ (Christian).
Yet, there are more to these about Maria which everyone is to learn especially they are practically relevant to Christmas, and for one to have a good celebration of Christmas, one must possess them. What are they? They are the virtues seen in the Blessed Mother in her verbal locution with Angel Gabriel about the Birth of Jesus, the first dialogue in history about Christmas.
In the periscope of Luke 1:26-38, which theologians often refer to “the Annunciation”, we see three important virtues demonstrated by Maria. The first virtue portrays Maria’s love for chastity, for in v 31, the Angel tells her that she will bear a son and name Him Jesus. In reaction, Maria asks in v 34 how this can be possible since she is a Virgin. She values chastity as a gift and treasure.
By this she teaches us to see chastity as a gift and not as a burden, especially in our age when the world has deified sex; sex is enthroned as god. By the very fact of being created in God’s image, our bodies become the temples of God, and as Maria showed God how she values this gift of chastity, by forming Jesus in her womb, she didn’t repudiate the dignity of her virginity, but dignified and sanctified it.
Here, as a Good Mother, Maria informs us to choose chastity, to value virginity and to embrace purity, and according to one’s state in life. Unmarried people are to maintain virginal chastity; priests/clergy and religious should be comfortable with their celibate chastity; while married people are to remain faithful to their conjugal chastity.
The good about this virtue as Maria’s life teaches us is that chastity, virginity and purity have a good reward, while immorality, immodesty and impurity have punishment, and that everyone can be chaste, including those who are struggling with the sins of impurity. They can conquer only if they keep in touch with God as Maria did if they make appropriate use of His Grace.
Like Maria, we have to welcome Christ in pure state, and do away with sins of the flesh, for He comes in the flesh to make reparations to the Eternal Father for our impurities. The second virtue portrayed by Maria as evidenced in v 38 is that of humility in response to the above cited words of the Angel in v 31. By saying that Maria will bear a son, He added in vs 32-33 what this son will be, among which is that His Kingdom will last forever.
This implies another way of the Angel telling Maria that the Son she will bear is an Eternal King, hence since it is God’s reign alone that can last forever, it follows that that Son as God, and by extension, she is the Mother of God. In reaction to this, Maria said that she is the “Handmaid of the Lord”. This is a strong manifestation of profound humility, of which in v 52 in the Magnificat, she speaks of how God dethrones the proud and exalts the lowly that is the humble.
As a Good Mother, her conduct and words inform us humility is priced so much by God, but that He detests pride. As people on earth, we are to imitate this. Some of the best ways to practice humility is, first, to beg God for the grace to be humble, to avoid seeking recognition; second, to count ourselves as nothing other than God’s creatures as Maria did; and thirdly, to identify with the poor and avoid making distinctions of classes, since Jesus, whom Maria bore would later tell us that we will always have the poor in our midst.
It is a way of telling us that we have to learn to be humble. Thus, like Maria, we should always welcome Christ with humility, for God does not dwell in boastful and proud entity. He is Humility personified. The third virtue portrayed by Maria is that of obedience in the second part of v 38, when in resigning to God’s message through the Messenger, His Angel, she said “Let it be done to me according to your words”. This shows that despite everything she has willed and decided initially, she still obeyed the request God made to her.
We are invited too to always obey God in His laws and inspirations because He does not deceive His creatures. Like Maria, let us always be firm in keeping what comes from God because it is for our own good, and to make us reflections of God who is Goodness Himself personified in Jesus. This is what obedience is, and not what it is not. In conclusion, the Angel says to Maria in v 37 that with God all things are possible.
It is way of telling us that even the virtues of chastity, humility and obedience which seem to be difficult and impossible to mankind, when we involve and depend on God as Maria did, would be very possible. Gazing at Maria, we see an example of a Mother who is chaste, who is Humble, and who is obedient. These truly qualify her to be called as the Igbo of Africa say, “Ezinne”, that is Good Mother.
We cannot become good if we are not chaste, humble and obedient. This is always binding and binding always if we desire Jesus to be comfortably born in our hearts. O Maria, Good Mother! Pray for us!
• Mr. Martin Umeatuegbu is of the Department of Theology/Religious Studies,Catholic Institute of West Africa (CIWA), Port Harcourt. He can be reached through firstname.lastname@example.org.