A young man was at a New Year’s party. He asks his friend for a cigarette. The friend replied “I thought you made a New Year’s resolution to quit smoking,” The young man answered ’I’m in the process of quitting, right now, I am in the middle of phase one.” “What’s phase one?” his friend asked. The young man replied. “I’ve quit buying.”
I’m sure you’ve noticed that each year almost all the major news magazines put out an issue with special pictorial sections recalling people & events that made news during the previous year. Many magazines also include articles by experts predicting what they expect to see happening in the years ahead.
Here we are, first day in January 2016. In fact, most of us seem to be very busy. We’re always in a hurry. We walk fast, & talk fast, & eat fast. And after we eat, all too often, we stand up & say, “Excuse me. I’ve gotta run.” I wonder how we’ll do this year? Will we be as busy? Will we make any better use of our time? In 366 days, when this year is over, will we be looking back with joy, or with regret? Will we be looking at the future with anticipation, or with dread?
On this first day of the New Year our first reading gives us a blessing, the famous blessing of Aaron from the book of Numbers. This is an ancient Jewish blessing. We can trace it back some 800 years before Christ’s birth. The blessing is simple and strong: “May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord’s face shine upon you and be gracious to you. May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” The blessing is filled with powerful imagery: shining one’s face on someone is a way of expressing delight on the person who is beheld. This blessing tells us that God delights in us and in our presence. Lifting up one’s countenance to another person is a way of saying that the gaze creates a bond. This prayer tells us that there is a bond between us and God that cannot be broken. This blessing of Aaron is a beautiful blessing, and we should make it our own.
It is a good idea to begin 2016 with a blessing. To begin this year by reminding our self who we are, that we have been blessed with life, with salvation and a future. We need to remember that we are the people who believe that God will be gracious to us, that God will give us peace. We are children of God. At the end of the Mass we will all take a brief moment to bless each other.
On this New Year’s day, the church gives us Mary our Heavenly mother as a model to follow. It might come as a surprise to you that in this short and tranquil gospel which we just heard, Mary shows us how to deal with tragedy in our lives. The relevant passage is only one sentence, but it is a sentence in which every word counts. It reads, “And Mary treasured all of these things, reflecting upon them in her heart.”
Now what are the things that Mary treasured? They are the events that surround the birth of Christ. But what is peculiar about this line is it says that Mary treasured all of these things. This is perplexing. If the line said that Mary treasured some of these things, it would be easy to understand. Some of the things surrounding the birth of Christ were wonderful indeed. It would make sense to treasure the angels’ song, the visit of the shepherds, the healthy baby boy that Mary brought into this world.
But the text does not say that Mary treasured some of these things, but that she treasured all of these things. This is confusing, because some of the things surrounding the birth of Christ we know were quite horrible.
But Mary accepted all of these tragic aspects of Jesus’ birth. She held them. She treasured them, because they were the way the birth came about. By her example, she tells us that when we need to deal with tragic aspects of our life, we must accept them as well.
Bad things happen to us all. When they do, the only way we can move forward, the only way that we can continue to live, is to accept those tragic things as a part of our story. And once we accept them, we can throw them together with all the good things that are still ours. This is how Mary dealt with the birth of Jesus. This is how we can, with God’s grace, deal with the tragedies of our lives so that we can continue as healthy and joyful people.