The first day of a differently-numbered year, Zero Twelve! How did that happen so quickly? The month, January, derives its name from the Roman god, Janus, who had two faces, one which looked backward and the other frontward. This God became the deity of openings and closings, as well as beginnings and endings.
We can pray with the endings of these past months with all they offered. We pray with the sorrows and joys, the wins and losses. We pray with the new as gifts and the familiar with new vision.
Some of the blessings of these past days may have not been received just yet and so we pray with the mysteries of our days as well as our futures. We join Mary in reflecting upon all these things. We join the shepherds who returned from a mysterious experience, praising and glorifying God for all that had happened to them as they walk back into their usual, but now, new lives.
We can pray for peace in our world, our countries, our families and our own hearts. There is much mystery to ponder and much of it has to do with relationships, between and among, persons, cultures, religions, nations, and between ourselves and God.
The Book of Numbers is one of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. These books record the history of God’s relationship with the people of Israel. They describe the Hebrew concept of creation, the founding by God of the nation of Israel and how exactly the people of that nation are to keep that holy relationship alive and orderly.
Our First Reading for this liturgy recalls one of the many conversations the Lord has with Moses. The central message is about how Aaron and his sons are to call down God’s blessings on Israel.
The words form a liturgical formula which, when spoken, will bring down God’s blessing. It is important to notice that God requires an instrument, a mediator, whose faith is necessary and whose words God employs to be active among the people. God is using human persons and in a human action to make known and real God’s loving actions. Is it magic - mumbo jumbo as it were. It can be interpreted that way, but deeper than mere words is the divine use of the human to relate significantly with the people of Israel.
We hear the Christmas-Octave Gospel today. The first worshiping community is pictured as returning to their sheepful lives. It is January for them. They leave, giving thanks for the events of the recent past. They, perhaps, even turn their heads to catch sight of the stable and then forwardly to their futures influenced by all they had heard and seen.
Mary, too, is having a January moment. She is turning over all these things in her heart, not just her head. She has heard the shepherds speaking of angel-messages, so she recalls her own angel-conference. Reflect, the word means literally, “bending back”. The past is somehow preparation for the future and so, she too, is allowing mystery to be a permanent companion escorting her into her future.
The prescriptions of the Law are part of their Jewish faith and so Joseph and Mary take the baby to fulfill the covenantal gesture of becoming a male with a name and so a member of the Holy People of God. The name given to Him, in Hebrew, means “The Lord Saves”, or “Jehovah Saves”, or “He Who saves the People”. Joshua was the great leader and military-savior of Israel and the name given by the angel for Jesus announces a man Who has a mission.
God told Moses to tell Aaron and his sons just how they were to bless the Israelites. God through an angel told Mary how she would bless the world. The angels told the shepherds who came, saw and left, blest and sent. There is a great deal of human instrumentality going on. Jesus’ mission is to give flesh to the blessing of Aaron and his sons. The Lord in Christ is blessing and keeping us. The Lord’s face has been shining upon us since his face was shined by the star at Bethlehem. He is ever gracious to us and continues looking upon us and offering us His peace. We look back, around and can see how these have taken place in our lives. Ah, the forward, the future, the “will be” of God, there’s the rub.
Will the Lord be gracious to us this year? That is our fear, our hope, and our life. I remember the New Year’s midnight ending the year my mother died. My father took the calendar outside and burned it and all its pains. He turned to us and said, “This new year will be a good one.” He never did stop missing her, but he did allow himself to be open to being blest anew, looked upon graciously and he was kept safe in faith. He did not wrap himself in faith to prevent any touch of human sadness any more. He was a blessing in how he continued living his fears and hopes and life.
Instrumentality, human beings are still the way which God uses to continue blessing and being gracious in this world. Once Jesus made His home in our personal stables it would have to be all played out on the field of flesh and blood. Once Jesus blest the flesh it became our meeting tent, our sacred space where He has chosen to meet us, look upon us, bless us and then, like the shepherds, we go, not exactly back, but forward.
There may be some calendar burning these days and maybe even some holding back and not turning the page. The way into this coming year with hope and faith, is by our finding the places and the people to whom we are sent, like the shepherds, to bless them by allowing our own fleshy faces to shine on and be kind to friends, perhaps we haven’t met yet. Like the shepherds, we turn toward where?, glorifying and praising God for all we have heard and seen, and will!
“I say that we are wound
The same is Mary more by name,
G. M. Hopkins, S.J.
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