Today a new year begins, and the Christmas Octave concludes with the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. We begin the new year celebrating the generosity and fiat of Mary that made her the Mother of God. This feast celebrates both the divinity of Christ and what that implies for Mary’s maternity. We also celebrate the World Day of Peace, rejoicing that the Prince of Peace is born.
As the Lord teaches the Israelites in today’s First Reading, we invoke his blessings as we begin a new year, giving thanks for the year just concluded and asking his favor in the year to come. Aaron and the priests invoke the Lord’s blessing, just as our priests do. An adaption of this formula of blessing is used even today in the Church. The Lord promised Israel that if they entered into covenant with him they would be his prized possession. May Lord see us this year as worth keeping and cherishing.
In the Old Testament the Lord turned his face from sinners because he was displeased with what they were doing, and when they repented they would ask him to show them his face. May the Lord see us this year always doing what is pleasing to him and beam about it. Lastly, we know the Lord is kind, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for his kindness. How many of us in a difficult situation have said, “Give me a break!” Considering how much of a mess sin makes, the Lord have given us a lot of “breaks,” and may he continue to do so. Peace comes with renewing our resolve not to sin. May the Lord help us attain and maintain this peace.
In today’s Second Reading we’re reminded by Paul that just as Jesus was begotten, not made, of the Father in his divinity, Our Lord was born of Mary in his humanity. The “woman” of whom the Son was born was Mary. He came for two reasons: to redeem us from our sins (“to ransom those under the law’), and in doing so enable us to become sons and daughters of God (“so that we might receive adoption as sons”). With the Fall of Adam and Eve humanity was fatally wounded by Original Sin. When Our Lord was born of a woman, born under the law, the divine Person of God the Son, Jesus, took up wounded humanity and healed it. We celebrate Mary, Mother of God today because through her the Lord started living the steps of human life that come from having a human nature: conception (of the Holy Spirit, in his case), gestation and birth.
When the shepherds in today’s Gospel told Mary that angels had spoken to them, she surely remembered that fateful day nine months earlier when she conceived of the Holy Spirit after the visit of Gabriel. Again in this moment the heavenly choirs can’t contain themselves at the birth of the Savior. Jesus in his public ministry would tell his listeners that the angels in Heaven rejoice more over a repentant sinner that over scores of holy people. Here they celebrate the salvation at hand for everyone and share the news with people low on the social scale: shepherds were marginalized in the culture of the time, which is why they usually kept to themselves. That didn’t matter to them now; they found the Holy Family and shared the good news with “All who heard it.”
Mary, in contrast, takes in the incredible mysteries of God that are unfolding in silence and contemplation. We can only imagine how she described these events years later to the first Christians, perhaps to Luke the evangelist himself, so that they would be narrated for future Christians. As a new year begins we remember this moment of salvation history as the beginning of a new phase of Mary’s relationship with God. Inspired by her example let’s strive to begin this new year as a year of a deeper love for Christ; in that way it will truly be a happy new year.
Today’s Gospel says that when the shepherd’s explained the reason for their visit: “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Granted that many people today are recovering from yesterday evening’s festivities it’s not hard to start this New Year as Mary did: peacefully, quietly, and in a spirit of contemplation, not just recuperation. All the fanfare is over, and the new year has just started. Reflect on the things in your heart. There are certainly things there you treasure, but also things there you regret. Now is the moment to inaugurate a year of peace.