Sunday, January 01, 2023

Incubation & Incarnation

Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Readings: Numbers 6: 22-27; Psalm 66 (67): 2-3, 5, 6, 8; Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 2: 16-21

Picture: cc Troy B. Thompson on Flickr

My dear friends, have you ever seen an egg incubator before? I remember visiting the Singapore Science Centre as a child, and being fascinated by the one they had there. It kept fertilised chicken eggs warm. And, if you were lucky, you could see a chick slowly emerging from its shell! To incubate is to provide the right conditions for bringing life to birth and maturity. Isn’t this what mothers and fathers do?

But what does it look like to incubate not just any kind of plant or animal life, but divine-human life? This what the scriptures help us to ponder today, as we celebrate the Holy Mother of God. For a start, the first reading and the psalm make it clear to us that the life we are considering originates in God. God promises to bless those who invoke God’s name, by uncovering God’s face to them, by showing them God’s ways. So that by following the way of life proposed to them by God as a precious gift, they will come to know and bear witness to true justice and peace on earth.

As Christians, we believe that this promise is fulfilled in Jesus, at once truly God and truly human, in whom God quite literally uncovers God’s face. And yet, isn’t it curious that, in the gospel chosen for our feast, we join the story only after the baby Jesus has already been born, and is found lying snugly in the manger? If motherhood is really about incubation, why not begin by considering the nine months between conception and birth?

I’m not sure, but perhaps our attention is being drawn to another way by which the Mother of God incubates life. Not just in the marvellous purity and generosity of her womb, but also by the freedom and hospitality of her heart. Perhaps this is why the gospel makes it a point to mention how Mary keeps paying close attention to the events unfolding around her, carefully treasuring and pondering them in her heart.

And what exactly is going on in her heart? We can’t say for sure. We can only guess. But perhaps it’s something like what the second reading tells us happens when God sends the Spirit of adoption into human hearts. The Spirit moves them–moves us–to recognise and proclaim God’s incubating Fatherly presence in our lives. Which may explain why, by the end of the gospel, after pondering God’s action in their lives, Mary and Joseph are moved to obey the angel’s instruction. They give their baby the name that means God saves.

Treasuring and pondering, obeying, naming and proclaiming. These are some of the actions by which Mary incubates life. Not just in her womb, but also in her heart. And not just Mary, but also Joseph and the shepherds too. They model for us what we too are called to do, both individually, as adopted sons and daughters of God, and also collectively, as Church.

Sisters and brothers, if incubation is really about providing the right conditions for life, then what must we do to keep incubating Christ, in our hearts, in our homes, and in our world, today and throughout the new year?

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