Theme: Our Mother
In many countries it is the custom on this first day of the New Year for children of all ages to return home in order to be blessed by their parents. No matter the distance, the family has to come together. Both the old and those newly born want to begin the New Year under the blessing of their parents. In a similar way; all us are invited today to come together from near and far not withstanding age or frailty, so that we can be blessed by God through our mother Mary. This blessing installs on us love, hope and faith so that in turn we are to be a blessing and bless others.
First reading: Numbers 6:22-27
According to the Mishnah this blessing is a collection of rabbinic prayers originating from the seventh century but finally compiled around 200 BC said to have been given by God to Moses to bless the Israelites. Since early days this blessing was recited daily in the temple at Jerusalem by the priest on duty over the people in attendance and believed to effect wellness on material and spiritual things. It was believed to influence good yield of the crop planted, multiplication and protection of herds, reasonable weather and military victories. The blessing assured that God would keep away harm of meager harvests, barren herds, inclement weather and defeat in battle for divine providence would see to their safety and well-being cf. Numbers 6:24. A shining face in Numbers 6:25, was a sign of joy and favor. To lift up the face cf. Numbers 6:26 was an expression implying that no action could break the bond between two persons and between a person and God cf. 2 Samuel 2:22. This being a permanent posture of God toward humankind, it constituted the ground of peace where those upon whom God’s face shined were privileged to live.
When pronouncing this blessing upon the people, the priests referred to as Aaron and sons were to invoke God’s name upon the Israelites. That is why this prayer implied the very presence of God under whom the Israelites were privileged to live, move and find meaning. Although the book of Numbers in its present form exhibits several layers of editing, it is believed that this blessing is original. In fact, portions of it appear on two small silver scroll amulets that were found in a tomb in Jerusalem dating the seventh century B.C. The wearing of the name of God on an amulet was a sign acknowledging God’s authority and provenance over one’s life. Today, we Christians wear the cross with similar significance. As this New Year begins and this blessing is prayed over us, we ought to acknowledge God’s care over us in everything.
Second readings: Galatians 4:4-7
Galatians is a brief communiqué that has had a powerful impact upon the life and thinking of the Church. This letter, less than 150 verses continues to influence many regarding issues of freedom and belief, Gospel and law, spirit and flesh, ethics and licentiousness. Although the letter belongs to the undisputed St Paul’s writings, it is difficult to determine with certainty to whom it was addressed. Could it have been the original Galatian territory which was Central Asia Minor or the Churches scattered in the Roman province also called Galatia meaning Pisidia Antioch, Iconium, Lystra and Derbe. In either case, it appears that Paul was well received by those Churches when an undetermined physical ailment necessitated his stay in the area. Paul himself attested that he had been accepted by the Galatians “as an angel of God, as Jesus Christ” Galatians 4:13. Because of their generous reception, Paul preached the Gospel to them and was heartened by the enthusiastic response he received. Later, Paul would remind them of their initial welcome of the Gospel and exhort them not to be swayed by other itinerant missionaries whose false teachings threatened the authenticity of his message.
In order to strengthen the faith and freedom, Paul wrote to them with great emotion and intensity. His anger and frustration are evident as he defends the Gospel and his authority as God’s apostle to preach it. In fact, Paul’s main intent was to convince the Galatians about the supreme authority of the Gospel of grace, an authority that had led them to the faith cf. Galatians 1:6, 9 which had redirected Paul’s life and sent him to preach the good news to gentiles cf. Galatians 1:11-17. The priority of grace means that their salvation is not determined by the law but by God’s gift not appropriated solely by Jews but by all who believe cf. Galatians 2:15-21.
Gospel: Luke 2:16-21
Unique to Luke’s Gospel, the mention of shepherds first seeking out and then reporting on finding Mary, Joseph and the baby lying in the manger at Bethlehem is more significant than it may first appear to the modern reader. Ordinarily, such announcements and the subsequent acts of glorifying and praising God were performed by great poets and orators on the occasion, for example, of the birth of a king. Nevertheless, Luke tells us that this honorable task was delegated to shepherds who were not only among the poorest of the poor but were even considered ignoble and outside the law, as their livelihood often required that they trespass on the property of others or poach off another’s water source in order to tend and feed their flocks. By specifying that these were the first to see and report and then glorify God for the birth of Jesus, Luke was, in dramatic effect, declaring that the prophecy of Isaiah was being fulfilled that “the lowly shall have the good news proclaimed to them” Isaiah 61:1
Also fulfilled in this brief Gospel text is the word spoken to Mary by the angel messenger on that occasion of annunciation; Mary was told, “behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus” Luke 1:31. That name Joshua in Aramaic Jeshua which means ‘Yahweh is salvation’ is the name by which Jesus and his mission are identified. Through him, God will truly effect the salvation of all sinful humankind. Mary’s role within this context is consonant with her role throughout the Gospels. By her humble manner, by her trust and dependence on God, she teaches us how to be disciples. Notice how carefully Luke expresses her attitude: ‘she treasured’ meaning ‘she reflected’. She does not allow fear over what she does not understand to paralyze her. Rather, she stored in her heart what she would not comprehend and in a spirit of trust she returned from time to time to revisit them and her future to God.
This joyous season of Christmas we are encouraged to believe that anything is possible. If we let our minds follow our hearts, like Mary, we can actually feel the presence of God among us. It is not too good to be true because that is just the way God feels. As we gather to experience these special blessings, we bring with us all the joys and sorrows of the year now past and ask to be blessed. We bring our hurts and regrets as well as our hopes and resolutions for the future. We bring work left undone, words left unsaid, wishes left unfulfilled and ask that God will bless all, heal all and turn all into a moment of grace.
As we begin this new year let us allow ourselves to be inspired by this anonymous author, who wrote down words for blessing homes saying: over those we love as family and friends Lord our God, You whose home is in heaven and on earth, and in that undiscovered beyond, come and bless this house which is our home. Surround this shelter with your Holy Spirit; encompass all its sides with the power of your protection so that no evil or harm will come near. May that divine blessing shield this home from destruction, storm, sickness and all that might bring evil to us who live within these walls. Bless this doorway. May all who come to it be treated with respect and kindness. May all our comings and goings be under the seal of your loving care. Blessed be all the rooms of this home. May each of them be holy and filled with the spirit of happiness. May the dark powers never be given shelter within any of these rooms but banished as soon as they are recognized.
Bless this living room. May we truly live within it as people of peace. May prayer and playfulness never be strangers within its walls. Bless this place where we shall eat. May all our meals be sacraments of the presence of God as we are nourished at this altar-table. Blessed be the shrine of the kitchen. Bless the herbs and spices, the pots, the pans that prepare our meals. May the ill-seasonings of anger and bitterness never poison the meals prepared here. Bless this bathroom; may the spirits of health and healing abide here and teach us to know and love our bodies. Bless these bedrooms. Here we shall find rest, refreshment and renewal. May the spirit of love and affection touch all who shall use these rooms. May God remain upon this house, our home.