On this feast day of Mary the Mother of God, we follow a refugee family chosen to save the world.
The author of the book of Numbers imagines a dialogue between the Lord and Moses. As the whole divine-human dialogue of the Bible does, it gives us an insight into the nature of God. God is defined as one who blesses and keeps, lets his face shine on the sons and daughters of Israel, is gracious towards them, brings peace and yearns to be addressed exactly as such: ‘this is how they are to call down my name….and I will bless them.’ We can only guess at the circumstances and history of experience which led the author and his or her redactors to such an insight into the nature of God. But it reflects the total human experience, then and now, of beliefs in gods as unseen powers which plot against humanity, and which bring an overwhelming fear and despair to life. The truer instinct of the heart is to seek a God who is defined as love and who yearns for peace. In this sense the author of the book of Numbers represents that tradition which wins the day.
With typical understatement, Paul sums up the preceding 2,000 years in one simple description: ‘when the time came.’! But he taps into the same insight of the author of Numbers. The heart is designed to seek out a divinity which can be defined as a loving mother or father. The logic then follows – this sort of God has no choice but to: ‘send his Son’ to be born of woman, to save humanity from seeing themselves as subjects of the law, to a realisation that they are ‘adopted’ sons and daughters.
We are made in the image of God. Or as Paul puts it: ‘God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, Abba, Father.’ Thus, the author of Numbers and Paul both witness to a revolution in human awareness. The prevailing culture wants to take comfort from and seek refuge in powers and ‘gods’ which are simply projections of our deepest fears, insecurities and despairs. So, the gods are to be feared and placated, they are our own worse selves projected onto a cosmic backdrop. The Bible records the counter-cultural perspective which reaches its fulfilment in the person of Jesus. The result of this final, on-going act is the recognition that God is not a tyrant to be feared, but a loving Father and we are his sons, daughters and heirs.
Luke grounds all this in a time and place and in individual human beings. The ‘hopes and fears of all the years’ have become solid reality. A refugee family has only an animal shed in which to bring their child into the world. So, God is defined in terms of love, vulnerability, god-with-us, God as one of us, God as one who dies, is present in all human suffering, and who shows us the ways of justice. In the book of Numbers, God is defined as bringer of peace, letting his face shine (smile) on us, being gracious to us. Now the ultimate proof of this is that God becomes one of us, so that we might become as God. No wonder Luke has Mary treasuring and pondering all these things in her heart. No-one in the whole of recorded and unrecorded history has been given such momentous ‘things’ to think about!