(You could begin by reading the scripture passage. Better yet, ask someone to read it to you. The Word of God is meant to be heard.)
The first day of January arrives exactly one week after the feast of Christmas begins. All around us, the world celebrates the end of one year and the beginning of a new one. Our past lies fixed behind us; the future stretches out unknown before us. We stand as in a doorway between two moments in time. At this threshold of change, the Church stops to honour Mary, Mother of God. Why?
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.
We do not have many readings about Mary in the Bible. For this first day of the new year—on this threshold day—we find Mary as the shepherds do, with Joseph and her child who lies in a manger.
Mary has come through quite the experience already this evening. Unable to find shelter in a home or an inn, with her baby demanding to arrive, she has given birth in the strangest of spots. She must have been scared. It may not have felt "right," because how could this possibly be what the angel Gabriel meant when he told her,
And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:31-33)
A grubby manger is not the throne of his ancestor David. Perhaps she did not do God's will after all. Perhaps she messed up. Perhaps she got it wrong.
When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
So what does she think as these scruffy strangers arrive in the doorway? Their story is as strange as hers has been. The angel of the Lord, a heavenly host praising God, the knowledge of her son as Saviour, Messiah, the Lord. All who hear the witness of the shepherds are amazed. She is amazed.
What is this amazement?
This is a gift of the Lord, the Holy Spirit of God.
Mary has not got it wrong.
The mess is fine.
She has done God's will after all.
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Sometimes—often—angels do not appear to us. Like Mary, the Word of the Lord comes to us through the witness of others. We have to listen; we have to hear. We have to receive their witness.
At our Baptism, and again at our Confirmation, we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. One of them is the gift of amazement—wonder and awe at the deeds of the Lord. Our world can endanger this gift. Marvellous wonders happen all the time. Technology can do amazing things. Cool, we say, and then we move along. What else? What's next?
But Mary opens the gift of wonder and awe. She uses it. She treasures it. She places the witness of the shepherds beside the announcement of the angel, beside the birth of her son. She ponders all these in her heart. Does she know what they mean? Not really. Not yet. She has an inkling. But she knows they are of God. The future is still unknown, but she has courage to take the next step.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
She and Joseph follow the law of the Lord. They circumcise their child into the covenant with Abraham so that he, too, shares in the promises of God. Our parents follow Mary's example when they take us to be baptized into the covenant, so that we, too, share in the promise of God.
Mary gives her child the name Jesus; she fulfills what the angel Gabriel told her. She does the will of God. Does she know what will happen next? Will there be no trouble in her life? Does she know what the future holds?
But she has her treasure. She walks with God. The Holy Spirit is with her.
As we stand at the threshold of the new year, do we know what will happen next? Will there be no trouble in our life? Do we know what the future holds?
But we treasure our faith. We walk with God. The Holy Spirit is with us, too.
And we have something Mary does not have.
We have her.
Pray for us, Mary, Mother of God.
Pray for us, Mary, dear mama of all.