A New Year! Such a day and a celebration began 4,000 years ago in the Babylonian culture– associated with the harvest of grains used in eating and drinking – a moment of thanksgiving to the gods for the gift of Life.
In 45 BCE (Before the Common Era), the Emperor Julius Caesar determined that January first would become the date for the new year to begin. Along with the astronomers and mathematicians of his day, he revised the world calendar of the Roman Empire according to the calculus of the Sun and the seasons of the year.
He chose January 1 to honor the Roman God, Janus, the God of the Beginnings, whose head bore a face looking to the past and a face looking to the future.
Different cultures around the world have chosen other days to mark the beginning of a new year sensing a need to renew the energy of life and to align life once again to its beginnings, honoring its creator, recovering its best values and making a new commitment to live life to its best. (And there was a lot of partying– which has not changed.) (And if you are inquisitive, google the origins of a New Year and January 1st.)
I received a very unholy Christmas email from a Jewish couple whom I met a few years ago when I cruised along the Danube River with my sister and cousin. The title of the email and holiday greeting was “Good Riddance 2020! OMG (O my God), what a year!” This couple are mega real estate sellers. The rest of the email were pictures of houses on their market.
In so many of my Christmas cards contained appended notes of how bad, disconcerting, unnerving, and bad 2020 was. All the cards expressed the desire for a much more positive 2021 and the return of what was considered normal.
How interesting that the ancient Roman culture imagined a god Janus, the god of beginnings – with a face looking to the past and one looking to the future. From where and to what we have come? What have we learned? To where and to what do we want to go and to become? Be careful to discover the true wisdom of life as we proceed into this new year upon which we are placing all our bets.
There is a God. There is a plan whether you believe or not. And for all our boasting and hoping, we can do very little to change what is going to be.
So I think that what we need is a good, closer look at reality and spirituality, adn our scripture reading today let us know what is what.
Our Old Testament Scriptures invites us to remember that everything begins from God, is sustained by God and is blessed by God.
We hear God telling Moses and Aaron that they will have a good and prosperous life as long as they remain on good terms with God. God tells Moses and Aaron that they are to bless the people of Israel with these simple words:
“The Lord Bless you and keep you!”
“The Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you!
“The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace.”
More than a liturgical prayer or a word of blessing, God is giving us the key to every success, every good and full life, and a divine charm to protect us.
It is called trusting God. It is putting our lives in God’s hand. And that is very difficult for Americans and 21st century persons to do. We think that we can just snap our fingers and God responds.
Think about this blessing, and substitute the “you” and replace the “you” with “me.” My prayer: Our prayer:
The Lord bless me and keep me
The Lord let his face shine on me and be gracious to me
The Lord look upon me kindly and give me peace.
This, then, becomes the prayer of one who is humble of heart, trusting in God to protect us and to lead us into the future.
The very words of the Blessing give life, give hope, and remind us that God is our light, our inspiration, our hope, and one who is caring for us.
We read today from St. Paul’s letter to the Galatians. “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son… so that we might receive adoption as sons and daughters.”
That very fact should stir up our confidence that we are not alone, that God is with us although these times are strange and present serious challenges to our peace of mind and to our nervous insecurity.
St. Paul reminds us also that “God has sent the spirit of his Son in our hearts.” St. Paul uses the ancient Aramaic word “Abba” – the endearing and heartwarming word “daddy” – to describe God’s true love for us and a source of courage and hope.
Finally, our Gospel presents to us the Mother of Jesus as a person of serenity, a person of strength, she can barely take into herself all that has been happening around her.
Did she feel overwhelmed like so many of us do? Not so much overwhelmed, I think, but amazed. Not overwhelmed as being dispirited.
The details of today’s story are not as important. In the middle of this short story about shepherds sharing their story, there is one simple sentence — “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.”
And what I share with you today is that attitude of Mary, of being overwhelmed and amazed, willing to enter this invitation to live in trust and hope, is the invitation God invites us to accept as we begin a new year.
“Reflecting” is a spiritual act in which we take little time to be. Reflecting is a kind of prayerful mesmerizing in the heart of human and divine love. In reflecting we return to peace, to trust, and to what is positive, what is possible.
On this feast that honors Mary as the Mother of Jesus, we pray for world peace and especially for the Peace in our hearts that comes from God.
To all of Mary’s questions about what was going to happen to her, God told her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the most high will cover you with its shadow.” May God do that for us and for all our questions.
And then when the angel talked about Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, the angel tells Mary: “for nothing is impossible to God” and nothing will be impossible for us as well — no pandemic, no sorrow or grief.
Mary invites us to accept the possibilities that God has in mind for us in 2021. Let us put the nightmares and manic worry to the side and accept the help of our loving God to walk with us.
“The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord let his face shine upon you.
The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace” in this New Year 2021!