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 quickly become weary old 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 and happens every day in little and easily overlooked ways.
Pope Francis said it powerfully in his Midnight Mass homily last week:
“This is what we should ask Jesus for at Christmas: the grace of littleness. “Lord, teach us to love littleness. Help us to understand that littleness is the way to authentic greatness”. What does it mean, concretely, to accept littleness? In the first place, it is to believe that God desires to come into the little things of our life; he wants to inhabit our daily lives, the things we do each day at home, in our families, at school and in the workplace. Amid our ordinary lived experience, he wants to do extraordinary things. His is a message of immense hope. Jesus asks us to rediscover and value the little things in life. If he is present there, what else do we need? Let us stop pining for a grandeur that is not ours to have. Let us put aside our complaints and our gloomy faces, and the greed that never satisfies! Littleness and the amazement of that little child: this is the message.
“Yet there is more. Jesus does not want to come merely in the little things of our lives, but also in our own littleness: in our experience of feeling weak, frail, inadequate, perhaps even “messed up”. Dear sister or brother, if, as in Bethlehem, the darkness of night overwhelms you, if you feel surrounded by cold indifference, if the hurt you carry inside cries out, “You are of little account; you are worthless; you will never be loved the way you want”, tonight, if this is what you are feeling, God answers back. He tells you: “I love you just as you are. Your littleness does not frighten me, your failings do not trouble me. I became little for your sake. To be your God, I became your brother. Dear brother, dear sister, don’t be afraid of me. Find in me your measure of greatness. I am close to you, and one thing only do I ask: trust me and open your heart to me”.
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.
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.