A few seconds ago the calendar in New Zealand turned to a new year. Some of us greeted this new beginning with friends and fireworks. Crowds in city centres counted out the old and joined hands in song to begin 2015. Some of us will sleep our way through the transition and wake with the year’s first dawn. The greeting of the day will be “Happy New Year” to family, friends and even to strangers. However in the midst of the celebration and the happy hellos our experience reminds us that after a few brief days each new year is aged and tired by the griefs and anxieties of life.
There is a remedy for this malaise that too often accompanies our days and years, and it is found in the gospel reading for today’s feast of Mary the Mother of God. The shepherds arrive, encounter the Christ child, and then return to their fields transformed. Shepherds don’t normally go about their shepherding “glorifying and praising God” because “of all that they had heard and seen,” but after coming face to face with Christ these first Christian messengers head away vibrating with hope.
Note that it is the encounter with the child Jesus that is the transforming event. This encounter which begins a life of intimacy with God, is the most fundamental need of every person. The first reading from today’s Mass gives the benediction which beautifully and powerfully expresses the desire of God to bless and keep, graciously shining his face upon us, looking kindly on us and giving us peace.
You can hear John Rutter’s beautiful setting of this blessing at the link below:
The Lord bless you and keep you!
The Lord let his face shine upon
you, and be gracious to you!
The Lord look upon you kindly and
give you peace!
This blessing from the book of Numbers has the power to fill is with light and peace, possibly because it is so ancient and has been used countless times over thousands of years. It is interesting how ancient prayers, ancient churches, become holy with long use. It’s as though they are transformed from human creation to become a special place of encounter with God.
Thank you for these reflections. Two thoughts, one is reminding us of that transforming experience that comes with meeting the Christ child. You called me back to a particular moment of grace from the Ignatian exercises that continues unfold the Mystery. Second, this blessing is wonderful and it too draws me back to those very important moments it was prayed through the gifts of musicians. In this new year, may the world grow in knowing and honouring this profound Mystery.