My friends, we are at a New Year—2017—a new beginning—a new chance to start again—a reason to hope. The Church Universal gives us a reason to be encouraged as the theme of “fullness of life” bursts forth in every reading today, says scripture scholar, Diane Bergant.
The first reading from Numbers contains one of the oldest pieces of poetry in the Bible, she tells us. It was originally given to Moses and passed on to Aaron, his brother and ultimately to the priests for the People of God. The blessings contained therein are asking for peace, which for the Jewish people was the condition of absolute well-being continues Bergant. If you were at peace, and we can assume in a physical, emotional and spiritual sense, you really had it all! To be at peace in this sense was considered to have, “fullness of life.”
We can imagine that this sense of being, “at peace” came because one’s family was near, they were fed and otherwise cared for; they were well in body, mind and spirit. This state of well-being gives each of us peace, when it is present. I can’t help but think of the people right here in Winona that have to struggle many nights for a place to stay, out of the cold, and of the Winona Community Warming Center slated to open soon to alleviate some of their suffering. This is a concrete example of living out our faith.
We see in the first reading from Numbers, our God, who wants us to know that we are not alone in our suffering, whenever and wherever we might experience it, wanting to help us make it better. The reading says, “Invoke my name over the Israelites.” In Hebrew, we get a clearer understanding of these words, when we read the translation—“Put my name on them” and I will then bless them. In other words, we belong to God and God will indeed, walk with us.
Paul, in his letter to the Galatians, spells this out and makes clear the relationship intended by God with each of us. We are made daughters and sons of this God because we have “the spirit of the Child which calls out, Abba!” Abba can be translated as “Daddy” or “Loving Parent.”
Within this reading; we can’t lose sight of the fact that our God will work through the patriarchal society that exists, where the legal heirs in any familial or business dealings will be males, but under Christ, our God says, all become worthy, all become daughters and sons, “heirs” and children of God. As someone once said, “This is huge!”
Paul goes on in his letter to the Galatians to make very clear the intentions of our God in caring for us. Jesus, our brother was sent specifically by our loving God to teach us first and foremost, that we are loved and then once we know and understand this basic idea—really wrap our heads and hearts around it; we can then go out and do the same.
For Paul, this is all about “mission.” Jesus, as God’s envoy—making him divine, “born of a woman”—becoming human—we are united, heaven and earth and as a result, are so capable of so much good! Part of the good that each of us is capable of is pointed to in the gospel from Luke. This gospel is the same one used on Christmas for the Mass at dawn, only the focus has changed from the shepherds to the child and his parents, Bergant tells us. We see that Mary and Joseph respected the law as they had Jesus circumcised and they named him according to the instructions given by the angel before his conception.
The aspect though that I wish to call most attention to in this reading is that of Mary being a real, down-to-earth example of the need of contemplation in our lives. We read, “Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.” No doubt there was much that she didn’t understand about the miracle of which she was part—she and Joseph, so to reflect on the purely human, joined with the divine and all that it would mean, was truly something to treasure! In our lives as well, we must take the time in our days to reflect on all that happens, how our God may want to work through it, through us, to allow Jesus to be born again and again, into our world.
Part of what makes the Christmas Season so rich is that each aspect is given its time; the shepherds, the Child, the parents, the Magi—each attempting to call forth something different in us.
We began this homily reflecting on the “fullness of life” as depicted in the condition of “being at peace.” Mary, given to us today, as a woman of reflection speaks to this peace. We have to be at peace to be able to reflect on what something means—none of us reflects very well when in a state of chaos. She encourages us to think on the significance of our faith as lived out through our daily experiences. She points to being faithful to daily spiritual practices—contemplation being one—that better helps us see God’s presence in our lives—through each other.
So, my good friends, as we begin another new year, let us keep the psalmist’s prayer on our lips and in our hearts, “May God who is merciful, bless us,” and remember that this prayer is basically asking God to “smile upon us.” Let us remember too that this is exactly what God wants to do!
And as we have said throughout this season, the over-the-top love of our God in sending Jesus demands that we respond in kind, giving love to all of God’s family, which will bring world peace—one day—“fullness of life”—for all! Amen? Amen!