We’re beginning a New Year. What will it be like? Some people don’t want to even think about it. We can think about politics, or terrorist attacks, or storms and floods. That’s what most of the television commentators will do as they look at the new year. Not much hope there. Can anyone help us look ahead?
Today in our liturgy we honor Mary, the mother of Jesus. Can she help us ?
Mary didn’t see clearly into the future in her own lifetime. She didn’t have a lot to go on when the angel left her in Nazareth. She was a woman of faith, rather than sight, but faith in the future might the greatest gift she offers us, a faith based on God’s power and not ours, a faith based on God’s love, God’s faithfulness and not ours.
Pope Francis quoted this prayer in his address to his advisors a few years ago at this time. He invited them to look into the future with faith. I think we can recognize Mary’s faith in the prayer.
“Every now and then it helps us to take a step back and to see things from a distance.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is also beyond our visions.
In our lives, we manage to achieve only a small part of the marvelous plan that is God’s work.
Nothing that we do is complete, which is to say that the Kingdom is greater than ourselves.
No statement says everything that can be said. No prayer completely expresses the faith.
No Creed brings perfection. No pastoral visit solves every problem.
No program fully accomplishes the mission of the Church.
No goal or purpose ever reaches completion.
This is what it is about: We plant seeds that one day will grow.
We water seeds already planted, knowing that others will watch over them.
We lay the foundations of something that will develop.
We add the yeast which will multiply our possibilities.
We cannot do everything, yet it is liberating to begin.
This gives us the strength to do something and to do it well.
It may remain incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way.
It is an opportunity for the grace of God to enter and to do the rest.
It may be that we will never see its completion,
but that is the difference between the master and the laborer.
We are laborers, not master builders, servants, not the Messiah.
We are prophets of a future that does not belong to us.”
by Howard Hain
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.
Perhaps the scariest thing to those of us who cling tightly to the things of the world is to accept the job that the Lord assigns us.
Oh, how so many of us are so quick to long for greater adventure!
Yet, when it comes to those humble, little shepherds to whom the angel of the Lord appeared, we are perhaps even quicker to long to be one of them—sitting quietly upon a gentle hillside, effortlessly tending to a passive flock, while the always-full moon provides a soft, ever-so-appropriate illumination from above.
But we are liars. For there’s nothing less romantic in each one of our daily lives, or more mundane. We simply have to be honest, or at least consistent. It all depends on how we look at it. If we see the shepherds in such a delicate light then we also need to see ourselves in the same. For before the angel appears, the shepherds were hardly posing for picturesque landscapes. Perhaps it is for this very reason—their realness, their authenticity, their holy simplicity—that the Lord chose them to be present when He revealed His glory.
It is exciting. We have a wonderful choice, then. Either our “boring” lives make us just the kind of people to whom God prefers to reveal Himself, or our lives are a lot more “exciting” than we ever imagined. Either way, what is vital to making such a decision is true sincerity and genuine gratitude. We need to thank God for who He has made us, for where He has placed us, and for what type of task He has assigned us.
A faithful, humble heart dreams and believes and sees great things among the most ordinary circumstances. Just look at the young virgin and the upright carpenter to whom the shepherds “went in haste” to find in a stable, adoring a child born within the company of the “lowest” of men.
If we spend our time dreaming of being someone else, living somewhere else, and doing something else, we miss the opportunity of being exactly who God intends us to be—and when that happens—we are always in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and most tragically, doing that which matters very little.
For to be the first on the scene, the first to “lay hold”, the first to adore the New Born King, is as good as it gets—even for those whose “normal existence” isn’t standing around all alone—day after day in the scorching sun or biting cold, while picking fleas from matted-down fleece or scaring off hungry wolves.
The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…”
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.
Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.”
—Luke, Chapter 2:10,16-18,20
by Howard Hain
I wonder. Did God ever catch a cold?
Did Mary look at Him while He slept, watching carefully His chest rise and fall?
Did Joseph pace around their small home, looking upward, his right hand touching his brow?
I wonder. Did they wince in sync when Jesus coughed from the bottom of His soul?
Was there a day, a single hour, from the moment Jesus was conceived that Joseph and Mary weren’t concerned?
Concerning all this there’s not much to wonder.
Jesus is human.
Of course He experienced “cold” in all its forms.
Of course Joseph and Mary felt they’d rather die than see their child in pain.
And Jesus is divine.
Of course He was homesick.
Of course He longed to return.
Between Mary’s womb and heaven the desert is awfully dry.
He climbed up high, seeking out mountain views.
He returned to the sea, seeking out salt air.
He stopped to hang out with the little ones, seeking out angels.
Jesus is just like you and me.
Only He allows Himself to be loved.
And that led Him to love to the utter extreme.
All flowed from and toward a family reunion.
His pain, His grief, His hope, His love were perfectly ordered.
Even when He coughed or sneezed or tossed and turned, Jesus did so while in the company of a promise.
And He’s extremely contagious.
Joseph and Mary became homesick too.
There’s only one place they could want to be.
With their only child.
Clinging to Him, to their God with all their might.
Interesting old books at Books Online, a wonderful free service. In Routledge’s Christmas Annual from 1872 there’s a Christmas story called “Aidan of the Cows.” What’s that about?
It’s about a young woman named Aidan who has herds of the choice cows producing the best milk and cheese in the village of St.Koatsven in a Distant Land near the shore of a distant sea.
Unfortunately, Aidan falls on bad times because the young man she loves spends her fortune til all her cows are sold to moneylenders.
Christmas morning Aidan wanders sadly down a meadow near the sea and hears a robin singing:
“ She listened with amazement, with fear and trembling, with a fearful joy, because the bird sang in human speech.
“I am Robin Redbreast,” he sang, ” the Bird of Good Hope, I am much endowed among birds. For in ancient times when He was toiling up the heavy hill bearing the bitter Cross, I, moved by Heaven, alighted on His head, and plucked from out His bleeding brow ONE thorn from the cruel crown that bound his temples. One drop of His blood bedewed my throat as I stooped to the blessed task, and the blood-drop dyed my breast in a hue of glorious beauty for ever.”
Aidan listened with all the ears of her heart.
“In remembrance of what I did, a poor foolish bird! this blessing was laid upon me—that once every year, on Christmas-eve, I should be empowered to give a good gift to the first maiden, good but unhappy, who should put her foot upon the herb Marie, as you, Aidan, have done.”
The girl looked down. Her foot was lightly- pressing the pretty little yellow trefoil plantret, which is called the herb Marie. “As you have done, Aidan of the Cows,” the robin repeated with a confident chirrup.
Of course, Aidan got her cows back and even her repentant young man, whom she marries and they live happily ever after.
The author ends the tale remarking that this all took place in a Distant Land. “ In the land that is close by us nothing of the kind takes place.”
But we know that it does. And so, may the Bird of Good Hope, speak to you today.
King David wonders, in our first reading today of the 4th Sunday of Advent, what he can do for God after all God has done for him. David had built himself a palace of cedar wood in Jerusalem, while the ark of the covenant, the sign of God’s presence, is in a tent. Should I build God a temple, a place of beauty where God would dwell and be honored,” the king asks?
The prophet Nathan tells the king: instead a building, God wants to dwell with you and your people.
In today’s gospel, God goes further. God will dwell in Mary’s womb, to take flesh from her and be cared by her.
Our gospel begins:
The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.
This gospel says so much about Mary. God showered graces upon her: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Just a young girl of 15 or 16, Mary answers: “Be it done to me according to your word. She accepts God’ s call, but she has her questions: “How can this be?”
The power of God will overshadow you, the angel tells her. The only sign she’s given is that her cousin, Elizabeth, “has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
“Nothing will be impossible for God.”
Then, the angel leaves, and never returns, as far as we know. Mary meets the days as they come with faith, gathering her experiences and treasuring them in her heart.
At Christmas, we’ll see Mary in Bethlehem, humbly, silently holding the Infant, her Child, God with us. At Easter, we’ll see her standing beneath the cross of Jesus.
She’s his mother, a woman of faith. We learn from her and ask her to pray for us: “Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worth of the promises of Christ.
by Howard Hain
A man named Paul lives in my home.
He’s an excellent house guest.
He never imposes.
He’s never and always alone.
My daughter and I talk of him often.
He brings wisdom to our kitchen table.
I’m not exactly sure when he moved in.
But it wasn’t so long ago.
Before and with him there are others.
Theresa, Francis, Bruno, John…just to name a few.
But Paul for some reason never seems to leave.
The others, they kind of come and go.
Paul on the other hand always hangs around.
But then again, I could say the same about the rest.
Is it cliché to say it’s a mystery?
The angel came to Mary in Nazareth, the last place we might expect an angel’s message. In this little known place, Jesus became flesh. In this young unknown woman, he came to dwell among us.
It wasn’t in Jerusalem, in the temple where God’s Presence was proclaimed. It was in Nazareth, in the quiet hills of Galilee, on a routine day, that He came.
We celebrate the mystery of the Incarnation and pray, “Pray for us, O holy mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”