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 without our vigilance and vision, too soon a new year can become aged and tired by the routines and demands of life.
There is a remedy for this malaise 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 return to their work routines 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.
Pope Francis said it powerfully in his Midnight Mass homily last week:
And just as God called the shepherds, so too he calls us, for he loves us. In the dark night of life, he says to us as he did to them, “Be not afraid!” . Take courage, do not lose confidence, do not lose hope, do not think that to love is a waste of time! Tonight love has conquered fear, new hope has arrived, God’s kindly light has overcome the darkness of human arrogance.
You are no longer alone! Dear brothers and sisters, what are we to do with this grace? Only one thing: accept the gift. Before we go out to seek God, let us allow ourselves to be sought by him.
Let us not begin with our own abilities but with his grace, for he, Jesus, is the Saviour. Let us contemplate the Child and let ourselves be caught up in his tender love. Then we have no further excuse for not letting ourselves be loved by him.
Whatever goes wrong in our lives, whatever doesn’t work in the Church, whatever problems there are in the world, will no longer serve as an excuse. It will become secondary, for faced with Jesus’ extravagant love, a love of utter meekness and closeness, we have no excuse. At Christmas, the question is this: “Do I allow myself to be loved by God? Do I abandon myself to his love that comes to save me?”
The pope concluded his homily with a story:
A charming legend relates that at the birth of Jesus the shepherds hurried to the stable with different gifts. Each brought what he had; some brought the fruits of their labour, others some precious item. But as they were all presenting their gifts, there was one shepherd who had nothing to give. He was extremely poor; he had no gift to present.
As the others were competing to offer their gifts, he stood apart, embarrassed. At a certain point, Saint Joseph and Our Lady found it hard to receive all the gifts, especially Mary, who had to hold the baby. Seeing that shepherd with empty hands, she asked him to draw near. And she put the baby Jesus in his arms.
That shepherd, in accepting him, became aware of having received what he did not deserve, of holding in his arms the greatest gift of all time. He looked at his hands, those hands that seemed to him always empty; they had become the cradle of God. He felt himself loved and, overcoming his embarrassment, began to show Jesus to the others, for he could not keep for himself the gift of gifts.
Dear brother, dear sister, if your hands seem empty, if you think your heart is poor in love, this night is for you. The grace of God has appeared, to shine forth in your life. Accept it and the light of Christmas will shine forth in you.
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!