The Book of Numbers 6:22-27

Paul’s Letter to the Galatians 4:4-7

The Gospel according to Luke: 2:16-21


The feast we celebrate on this Sunday that also happens to be the first day of the New Year, 2012, has had several titles.  Some might remember when January 1st was the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord, so called because Jewish Law prescribed that male babies undergo the operation eight days after their birth.  It was also the day they were named.  Then January 1st could be celebrated as the Word Day of Peace, or as we call it now, the Feast of Mary, the Mother of the Lord.  All three titles are appropriate.  The Liturgy of the Word puts all three ideas before us for our contemplation.  Hearing the Word should bring us comfort in these troubled times and strengthen our hope.

The first reading from the Book of Numbers is an ancient prayer of blessing.  Most Jews would know the blessing by heart having heard it invoked so often in the synagogue services.  Fathers would bless their families with these words and perhaps conclude each day with the blessing.  Jesus, as he grew in age and grace and wisdom, heard the blessing that three times invoked the Holy One with reverence and awe and asked that the Lord wrap those blessed in God’s presence with love, sustain them in the splendid countenance of God’s gaze, and fill them with serenity and peace.  To so bless is to fulfill God’s will when the Lord commanded Moses to instruct Aaron and his sons how they were to bless the Israelites.  The point is that God wants the Israelites to be conscious of the presence and the love that should see them through good times and difficult times, sustaining them in the worst of times with the knowledge that nothing will separate them from God’s enveloping love.  Jesus grew in the consciousness that he lived always in the Father’s presence and sent by God, his desire always was to do his Father’s will.  With his last breath in this world Jesus would commend his spirit into the Father’s hands.  That is the fulfillment of the blessing.

It was the consciousness of the blessing’s meaning that gave Mary the strength to say “yes” to Gabriel’s announcement.  And God took on human form in her womb.

Think about committing the blessing to memory and then you will be able to use it in various situations with those you love.  What a wonderful way to pray over your children as you put them to bed at day’s end.  What a wonderful way to pray over you son or daughter as your child leaves home for university or military service.  What a wonderful way to pray over someone as you keep the final vigil and usher your loved one into glory.

Now let Paul’s words that summarize our core beliefs wash over you.  What a magnificent reading that reminds us of the transformation of creation that has happened because of Jesus Christ born of Mary.  Jesus came into the world in the fullness of time as a result of God’s sending and was born into the human condition, subject to the Law and destined to redeem those under the Law.  That is the meaning of Christ’s passion, death and resurrection.  In turn Jesus breathed his Spirit on us in our Baptisms and transformed us through our adoption as sons and daughters of God.  Sin caused the breach.  The Incarnation reconciled and united God and humans.  Notice the word Paul said we should use in “crying out to God.”  Abba.  The text translates Abba as Father.  More literally, it should be translated, “Daddy.”  Less formal than Father, Daddy inspires the confidence that a little one has in reaching out to father, unable as yet to use the word, Father.  And, implied is the fact that God responds in kind.  In Christ we are no longer slaves.  We are sons and daughters and therefore heirs to the Kingdom.

When we were baptized we entered the waters described both as tomb and womb.  When the waters were poured over us or we were immersed in the waters we died there to all that was of sin and opposed to God.  We came out of the waters, born to a new life, clothed in Christ.  The white robe we were clothed in then symbolized that rebirth.  Abba!  God is our Father, our Daddy, our Papa.    Embraced by our Papa forever, what is there to fear?

And so we come to the gospel.  The shepherds have made haste to see the sign spoken of by the angels that would confirm the good news of great joy, the birth of the one who is Christ the Lord.  The sign?  “An infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”  The shepherds take in the sign, translate it, and rejoice at what has begun.  Mary stores all that is happening in her heart where she will be able to process and reflect on the marvels God is accomplishing because she said, “Yes.”

Mary is the ark of the New Covenant.  She carried in her womb the Living Word made flesh.  The Son born of her and lying in the manger will bring about the new and eternal Covenant with God.  She is the Mother of the Church, the Body of Christ.  On this day we gather with the shepherds and honor Mary, singing her praises, rejoicing because she is our mother as well.

The Blood of the Lamb will save Mary in the same way that every member of the human race that achieves salvation is saved.  The church proclaims that Mary, who bore in her womb the word Incarnate, was preserved from sin from the first moment of her existence.  Death and sin have an inextricable link.  Mary will not have to die because she never knew sin.  We call that mystery, the Immaculate Conception.  When her life runs its course, Mary will repose in dormition and she will transition into glory.  She will experience the full consequences of her son’s redemptive act and of her having said yes to God’s will in her life.  We rejoice and celebrate because there is hope in the mystery for all of us who have died with Christ in baptism and been raised to live in union with Christ.  Our bodies may die for a time.  We believe that at the end of time, our bodies will be raised and body and spirit, we, too, like Mary, shall live with Christ in glory.

Mary is the model of discipleship.  We who believe in Christ are called to live the will of the Lord in our lives, to learn from Mary’s example, to learn through our desire to imitate Christ, and so always say yes the way Mary did and the way Jesus did.  “My desire is to do the will of (the Father) who sent me.”

There is a lot for us to ponder on this first day of the New Year.  We won’t exhaust the implications before we transition from the Liturgy of the Word to the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  But conscious that Mary’s son lives in and unites us, we ought to be prepared to let go and enter into Mystery.  As co-celebrants of the Eucharist we will experience the sacramental presence of Christ in the Bread and Wine just as we experience that presence uniting us as the Body of Christ.  Humbled by the magnitude of God’s love and the wonder of the invitation, we will take and eat; we will take and drink.  And we will be sent.  Strengthened by the meal we have shared, we will continue to find ways to minister, to serve the little ones, to bring peace to the anxious, and comfort to the dying.  With Mary we will say yes to God’s will working in our lives.

Abba embraces us in love now and lives among us.  Imagine what it will be like when the full glory is revealed provided we have loved even as we are loved.

Amen.  May it be so.




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