Theme: God bless and keep us
In many countries around the world families gather to receive blessings of the new year from God and from each other. All ages want to begin the New Year under protection and grace from above. In a similar way; we are invited today to come together so that we can be blessed. This blessing installs us with love, hope and faith so that we can have life in its fullness.
First reading: Numbers 6:22-27
According to rabbinic archives dating around 200 BC; testify that this blessing was handed by God to Moses to bless the Israelites. The same blessing was recited daily over the people in the temple at Jerusalem by the priest on duty. It was believed that these caused material welfare and spiritual peace. Through it, crops would yield; herds would multiply, weather would be favorable, individuals would be safe and military victories would be assured. A shining face was a sign of joy and God’s favor. cf. Numbers 6:24-26. To lift up the face implied that no action could break the bonds between persons or between people and God cf. 2 Samuel 2:22. A lifted face was a permanent posture between God and humankind constituting a ground for peace. Those upon whom God’s face shined would live a privileged life.
When pronouncing this blessing by invoking God’s name, the priest was referred to as Aaron making him identical to Aaron. This prayer therefore implied that God constantly blessing them. Within it the Israelites would be assured of living and finding meaning. Although the book of Numbers in its present form has undergone editing, it is believed that this blessing is original. Portions of this blessing prayer appear on two small silver scroll amulets 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 of acknowledging God’s authority and provenance. As this New Year is beginning with similar blessing over us, we need to believe that it is God blessing us. Our duty therefore is to translate this blessing into sustainable actions.
Second readings: Galatians 4:4-7
Galatians is a brief communiqué that powerfully still impacts upon life and thinking of the Church. With less than 150 verses it remains influential in regard to issues of freedom and belief, Gospel and law, spirit and flesh, ethics and licentiousness. As we search for inspiration we need to be mindful of two things: What is God teaching us today? What should we do to be compatible with the message? Much depends on our attitude and disposition. Paul was well received by Galatians when an unnamed physical ailment forced him to stay in their area. He attests that he had been welcomed “as an angel of God, as Jesus Christ” Galatians 4:13-15. Because of their welcome and enthusiasm, Paul preached the Gospel to them. Later, when they were being swayed by Judaizers and conservative Christians, he reminded them of their initial welcome of the Gospel and exhorted them not to be misled by false teachers.
For the sake of strengthen their faith, Paul wrote with intensity, open anger and frustration but all for defending the Gospel and his apostolic authority. Although emotional, his message is orderly and clear with an intention to convince them of the supreme authority of the Gospel of grace where he got courage to preach it to gentiles cf. Galatians 1:11-17. The priority of grace means that salvation is not determined by law but as God’s gift appropriated to all who believe making them God’s adopted children cf. Galatians 2:15-21. Through this turn of events, God’s children are no longer slaves but heirs privileged to call God Abba papa daddy and Father. As God’s beloved sons and daughters we share all that Jesus enjoys with God. If we were only to realize the implications of this gift; how powerful would it affect the way we live and love one another! Joy is not an outcome of vacuum but an action prompted by grace.
Gospel: Luke 2:16-21
Unique to Luke’s Gospel is the mention of shepherds first seeking and then reporting after discovering Mary, Joseph and the baby lying in the manger at Bethlehem. Ordinarily, such announcements and the subsequent acts of glorifying and praising God were a privilege of great poets and orators. 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 immoral and living outside the law. As their livelihood often required, they trespassed on the property of others, poached off another’s water source to tend and feed their flocks at times by force. By specifying that such characters were the first to see and report and then glorify God for the birth of Jesus, Luke was, dramatically 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 text is the word spoken to Mary by the angel at annunciation that, “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 meaning ‘Yahweh is salvation’ identified Jesus to his mission. Through him, God would fully effect salvation over all humankind. Mary’s role in this context is consonant with her Gospel duty. By her humility, trust and dependence on God she teaches us how to be disciples. Luke expresses her attitude carefully: ‘she treasured’ all that was happening in her heart. She does not allow fear of what she does not know to paralyze her, rather, she stored up what she did not comprehend and in a spirit of trust and wonder returned from time to time to visit them and recommit them to God.
Mary will interpret these puzzling events after the ascension when Jesus has been enthroned in heaven. As part of the community that had gathered to await the gift of Jesus’ Spirit at Pentecost cf. Acts 1:14, Mary will hear her Son proclaimed as “Lord, Messiah, Savior” Acts 2:36; it is here that she will come to know fully what the angel’s words meant that “blessed is she who hears the word of God and keeps it” Luke 11:28. Today we need to resolve to entrust our future into God’s will, to dispel fear, to dismiss hopelessness so that our plans and good attempts can remain secure under God’s blessing. As we start on another year filled with surprises and at times uncertainties, we need to trust that God is still in charge of our history.
As we enter into this New Year, we pray the following words for blessings on our homes, loved ones, family, friends and places of work: Lord our God, You whose home is in heaven and on earth, come and bless us. Surround this Country with your Holy Spirit; encompass all its boarders with the power of your protection so that no evil or harm will come near. Shield us from destruction, life storms, sickness, viruses, accidents, joblessness and all evil. Make us live.
Bless our doorway may all who come be treated with respect and kindness
Bless our sitting rooms may we truly sit there as people of peace
Bless our rooms may each of them be filled with the spirit of happiness
Bless our kitchen and all that prepare our meals, may we have enough to eat joyfully
Bless our plates may safe from anger and bitterness and poison
Bless our bathroom may we wash and be clean and love our bodies
Bless our bedrooms may we find rest, refreshment, love and renewal
Bless our means of transport, shoes, motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, aero planes and boats, may they reach safely to our planned destination
Let us pause and pray in silence as each of us calls down the holy blessing of God.
Happy new year.
Fr. Paulino Mondo