When someone's birth date is unknown and that person is significant then designating a 'birthday' seems like a good idea. It doesn't matter that the 'birthday' chosen isn't the 'real' one when you simply want to celebrate someone's life and all it means to you. Isn't that what birthdays are for? So we have 25th December for the birth of Jesus of Nazareth when no-one knows what day of what month Jesus was born and even the year is subject to scholarly argument. Similarly the fact that Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and many Anglican churches celebrate 'The Birth of the Blessed Virgin Mary' today, 8th September, doesn't mean she was born that day. The date was probably chosen because it was the beginning of the Byzantine year and the Eastern Orthodox liturgical year. The traditional festival began in Jerusalem in the 5th century and was adopted in the Roman church in the 6th/7th centuries.
The icon in the image above shows a rather weary mother of Mary (in labour?) on the left side and the newborn baby Mary with her parents on the right. Mary was to become the mother of Jesus, which is why she is called "blessed". The New Testament gospels don't tell us who Mary's parents were. Tradition and some early Christian writings name her parents as Joachim and Anne, an older couple who had given up hope of having children. Mary's birthplace is unknown but an ancient tradition favours Jerusalem. In the crypt of St Anne's church in Jerusalem is a cave purporting to be the site of Joachim's and Anne's home and the birthplace of of Mary. Who knows? It may or may not be.
I'm glad that we know so little for certain about Mary's birth, family or upbringing. That absence of facts helps me to honour Mary as ordinary and yet at the same time extra-ordinary. Ordinary because her origins are obscure and we know so little about her, just as for most of the people of this world. Ordinary because as a baby girl of the time she was born she is likely to have been regarded as of little worth. If she were her parents' only child, were they disappointed their child was not a boy? Extra-ordinary because God chose her to be the mother of Jesus and therefore the channel through which Hope is born for the world. Ordinary and extraordinary - much like all the people of the world, human yet made in God's image, unworthy yet each loved by God.
Almighty and everlasting God,
who stooped to raise fallen humanity
through the child-bearing of blessed Mary,
grant that we, who have seen your glory
revealed in our human nature
and your love made perfect in our weakness,
may daily be renewed in your image
and conformed to the pattern of your Son,
Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
C.of E. Common Worship Collect for today
Image Credit: Flickr, CC License