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Whether accurate or not, I have a certain visual understanding of humankind’s historical relationship with God: it looks like an hourglass, but it doesn’t function in quite the same way.
In the beginning, in the Garden, the relationship with God was as perfect as it could be, but following the fall, that relationship became more and more narrow as the Israelites moved further and further away from God, eventually reaching a true crisis point. That relationship did not begin to grow again until after the coming of Jesus, when the Gospel began to go out into the world and the crisis was overcome. As St. Paul teaches us in his letter to the Galatians, “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” (Galatians 4:4-5)
This was truly the work of God and could not be accomplished otherwise, but there was a human element as well. You know the story: an angel of the Lord said to Mary, “‘And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus’…. Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’” These words of Mary began again the great work of God in the world. What did her ‘Yes” accomplish?
In the year 431 a.d., the Roman Emperor Theodosius II called a church council in Ephesus. This is the third of seven early major church councils, the first being the Council of Nicaea where the Nicene Creed was drafted. Presiding over the Council in Ephesus was St. Cyril of Alexander and one of the decisions made at the Council was the calling of the Virgin Mary the Theotokos, meaning “Mother of God” or “God Bearer.” It was on the topic of the Virgin Mary that St. Cyril preached, and there he answered that question of what Mary’s ‘Yes’ accomplished.
Mary, Mother of God, we salute you. Precious vessel, worthy of the whole world’s reverence, you are an ever-shining light, the crown of virginity, the symbol of orthodoxy, an indestructible temple, the place that held him whom no place can contain, mother and virgin. Because of you the holy gospels could say: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
We salute you, for in your holy womb was confined him who is beyond all limitation. Because of you the holy Trinity is glorified and adored; the cross is called precious and is venerated throughout the world; the heavens exult; the angels and archangels make merry; demons are put to flight; the devil, that tempter, is thrust down from heaven; the fallen race of man is taken up on high; all creatures possessed by the madness of idolatry have attained knowledge of the truth; believers receive holy baptism; the oil of gladness is poured out; the Church is established throughout the world; pagans are brought to repentance.
What more is there to say? Because of you the light of the only-begotten Son of God has shone upon those who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death.
Today we celebrate the Blessed Virgin Mary, remembering the part she played in God’s work of salvation by saying ‘Yes’ to the Lord’s call on her life, and recognizing how we too, in saying ‘Yes’ to God’s call on our lives, can impact God’s continued work of salvation in the world through the spreading of the Gospel message.