Homilette for Thursday, January 1, 2009

Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God

(Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

We call the first month of the year “January” after Janus, the pagan god of gates and doors. Statues of Janus have two heads like a door has two sides -- one looking backward and the other forward. Certainly in January we look in these two directions. We repeatedly refer to the old year, sometimes mistakenly writing its number on checks. But as the month moves along, we think more of the possibilities lying in the year just begun.

The Nativity scene with Jesus lying in a manger also calls us to look both backward and forward. The manger is not meant to indicate Joseph and Mary’s poverty, but to recall what the prophet Isaiah said of Israel. “An ox knows its owner, and an ass, its master’s manger,” Isaiah observed, “but Israel does not know, my people has not understood (me)” (Is 1:3). Now, the evangelist Luke shows, the shepherds of Israel see and know their Lord. The Lordship of Jesus, however, will only be revealed to all lands in the future. After Jesus is crucified, rises from the dead, and send his Spirit upon them, his apostles will preach his name throughout the world.

New Year’s Day is generally reserved for rest and visiting (and, for some, football). But the Church calls us to mass to reflect on the significance of what has taken place during the past week. We have heard the story of Christmas retold. We have celebrated Christ’s coming by acts of kindness and generosity. And we have found ourselves immersed in an atmosphere of peace and goodwill. Like Mary in the gospel we are to reflect on these things in our hearts in order to distill their meaning for the year ahead.