This feast honoring the Mother of God is the eighth day of Christmas--
the birth of the Savior is too great an occasion
to be contained in a single, 24-hour day;
so we have an "octave," an eight-day "day."
In our home, growing up, we had a tradition:
our birthday was also "mother's day"--
so we went and said "thank you" to mom.
That's what the Church does today.
The title, "Mother of God," translates the Greek, Theotokos: "God bearer."
To this day, many of our Protestant friends
find fault with Orthodox and Catholics over this title.
The Church declared Mary
at the third ecumenical council in AD 431, in Ephesus.
But here's the thing: what made the bishops do that
was not a need to honor Mary, but to resolve a question about Jesus.
The issue was the two natures of Jesus:
He is both God and Man--but how? How does this work?
This is crucial because, if you keep his humanity, but lose his divinity,
he's no longer our Savior: we need God to save us.
But if you keep his divinity, but lose his humanity,
then he's no longer our savior; no longer God-with-us:
we're back to God, far away.
The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus
lose all meaning if he is not both God and man.
Either it's God, play-acting at dying and rising;
or just another execution at the hands of the state.
A bishop Nestorius started this problem
when he argued that Mary is mother of only part of Jesus--
the human part. But there's the problem: dividing Jesus into parts.
Think of it this way: suppose Jesus did as my family did,
and he came to his mom on his birthday, and said, "thank you"--
did only part of him say thank you?
Of course not!
Jesus did not have a dual personality.
It comes down to this: how committed is God to us?
His commitment is as total and irrevocable
as the unity of God and man in Jesus Christ.
Start pulling that unity apart, and where does that leave us?
So, the Church had to settle this--thus the ecumenical council.
St. Cyril of Alexandria was there, and here is his account:
"The whole population of the city, from earliest dawn until the evening,
stood around in expectation of the council's decision.
And when they heard that the author of the blasphemies
had been stripped of his rank,
they all began with one voice to praise and glorify God."
When the bishops came out of the church,
the people led them in torch-light parades, swinging incense, and singing,
"Praised by the Theotokos!"
We can imagine that, perhaps, Jesus as a boy,
came to say "thank you" to Mary on his birthday.
But he certainly says "thank you" through us, his Body.
That's what we do today.