Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily – 20 December 2015 – Birthing Jesus

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Mary and Child by Guido Reni 15c

“Virgin and Child” by Guido Reni (1575-1642)

Fourth Sunday of Advent C – 20 December 2015 – Birthing Jesus

Click here for today’s scriptures

Of all the religious paintings and sculptures in the history of art the image of Mary holding her child Jesus ranks at the top. Victorian renderings of Mary idolizing her son in a crib while a puzzled Joseph looks on greet us every Christmastime. The portrayal that is most unfamiliar to us in this country shows Mary nursing a contented baby Jesus.

This maternal rendering of Mary and her child is part of popular Catholic culture in many countries around the world. Why not here? Could it be we cannot bear to see Mary’s breast? Maybe the image is too real and religion for many is too surreal?

Works of art tell familiar stories. They also add new insights to old tales. Imagine. Mary, a Middle Eastern teenager, nursing, nurturing a vulnerable and thirsty infant Jesus, the promised messiah! 

This wonderful mythology casts light on parent child relationships and  human interdependence. The experience of God relies on us. The image of Mary breastfeeding the infant Jesus reminds us that all of us are mothers of God birthing the presence of Christ into the world.

Angels, we believe, are messengers from God yet in today’s gospel Mary did not believe the spirited Gabriel. She had to double check with someone she could see and touch. Mary needed a hug! She needed something the angel could not deliver. According to the story her cousin Elizabeth prophetically recognized the presence of Christ in Mary. She cried out, “Blessed are you among women, blessed is the fruit of your womb ….” Notice, blessed are both the mother and child.

Then, and only then, a confused, terrified Mary remembered lines from Hannah’s Song, a song of reversal found in the Book of Samuel. Scared to death, Mary sang out — greedy, powerful oppressors will lose out to poor, vulnerable people.

Often we too doubt the presence of God in our lives until someone touches us with tender love and care. On the other hand we can make it difficult for others to see God in us. Distractions in our lives can shorten our attention spans, cloud our perspectives, sometimes prevent us from living out a radicalized Christian mission.

We underestimate our worth, the value of other humans, our planet and all other creatures. Maybe we have limited our understanding of the incarnation as only the birth of a baby who would grow up and then die to save us from sin. What more is there to this story?

Without denying his mission or his death what might happen when we concentrate more on Jesus who, by his lifestyle, showed us how to to suckle one another with comforting milk and honey? When we practice bold hospitality toward others, when we nestle homeless and hungry persons in our laps, Christ shines through the mirky shadows of life.

Today our country and the world are caught in one long night of bad dreams. But something in our gut, perhaps it is our faith and hope, tells us at the end of such a nightmarish time the sun will rise again. 

A few years ago T. Thorn Coyle wrote about the winter solstice, which happens tomorrow. It is “a chance to still ourselves inside, to behold the glory of the cosmos, and to take a breath with the Sacred.” Great hope and promise are waking in the earth.

This season of Advent has come to an end. Four weeks ago Betsy Rowe-Manning invited us to “become the birthing place of God among us.” On the last two Sundays I asked “well, what are we waiting for” and “what should we do next.” 

The psalm this morning helps us move forward. It reminds you and me that if we turn to the radiance of the “son” we will experience salvation. That bright light, that gift of redemption, is a force deep within each and everyone of us. It is just waiting to be delivered.

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Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

3 thoughts on “Homily – 20 December 2015 – Birthing Jesus

  1. This one you knocked out of the proverbial ballpark. The choice of painting is absolutely stunning. Perhaps some of entertain a false discomfort in seeing Mary’s breasts exposed, rooted perhaps in an unhealthy Jansenistic view of human sexuality.

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  2. I was lucky enough to be sitting in the pews for this one. This may be my favorite of yours. Humans providing nourishment to G-d – something to ponder for a while.

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  3. Words are insufficient, but here goes. This homily contains a profound message at any time of year, but needed to be said at the end of Advent. It was unconditional, unifying, and lest we miss the point, fundamentally life-giving. I love it when Scripture meets life, head on! Richard, this might have been your best yet.

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