December 25 began the Christmas Season, the time when we celebrate the nativity of God-made-flesh. During this festive period we mark the changing of the calendar, counting the number of years since the time of Jesus’ birth which happened roughly 2010 years ago. For this reason, January 1 ought to stand out in a very special way during the Christmas Season as it truly denotes the birth-day of Christ within the Church’s liturgy.
And as a matter of fact, New Year’s Day is a holy day of obligation for Catholics, a day when church attendance is required to show our profound gratitude for what God has done in giving us His only Son. So the Christian calendar does commemorate the January 1 birthday of Jesus with due reverence…but not under a “name” or “title” that refers to Jesus as one might expect. Rather it is “Mary, the Mother of God” who is especially remembered on New Year’s Day.
This might beg the question…Why not give Jesus His own birthday without placing such an emphasis on His human mother? Why not give the spotlight to Jesus since He is after all the incarnate God? Why so much focus on Mary?
But the Church’s wisdom in this matter is easily defended…
First it must be remembered that the Church celebrates many saints throughout the year, and most especially we celebrate Mary on several annual occasions as we recognize her unique place in God’s plan for our salvation. Any time we set aside these feast days and special memorials for Christian saints and martyrs, we are in reality celebrating God and Jesus…for it is GOD Who works through the saints and shows forth His grace in their lives. By elevating the saints on their special feast days, we are in fact elevating God, Who works marvelous deeds through them. So whenever we hold up Mary in this way (as we do on January 1) we are really holding up Jesus, whom we see reflected in her life.
But the best reason of all for focusing on Mary during this January 1 holiday is found when we contemplate the infant Jesus whom we find laying in a manger at Christmas. A newborn baby depends exclusively on his parents for his survival. In the Incarnation, God placed Himself in Mary’s care, first for the nine months of her pregnancy, and then throughout His infancy and childhood. He relied on Mary and Joseph for all of His earthly needs and wants as any human child would. Until Jesus reached manhood, Mary and Joseph stood as guardians and protectors of God’s Son.
As any parent knows, when a child is born the parents are flooded with visits from friends and relatives hoping to get a peak at your new bundle of joy. “Can I see him? Can I hold him?” they ask. “How much did he weigh? What color are his eyes? Does he sleep through the night? Does he cry a lot?” The child cannot answer for himself. So we get to know the newborn babe by going through his parents…At Christmas it is only right that we go to Jesus through Mary. We arrive at Christmas, after our journey through Advent and we go to His mother hoping to see Him cradled in her arms.
Catholics are often accused of overshadowing God by focusing too heavily on saints and especially on Mary. But God saw fit to bestow this gift on Mary and make her the His mother. We do well to honor Mary at Christmas and seek Christ where He chose to be found.