•Numbers 6: 22-27 * Galatians 4: 4-7 * Luke 2: 16-21•
Weekly Scripture Readings: Solemnity of Mary
January 1 has a carnival-like atmosphere to it. Consider the variety of activities that occupy people as the New Year begins: fireworks, crazy hats, toasting with a glass of champagne, football games, and visiting friends and family.
Liturgically we ignore “New Years” focusing instead on a young woman about whom we know so very little. Today is “The Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: Mother of God.” WOW! What a mouthful!
This baffles me as I try to write this homily. When I ponder “The Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary: the Mother of God,” all I hear are words, words, words!
I suspect those who compiled our lectionary also were baffled. Our only valid sources of information about Mary are the brief tales in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. They tell us practically nothing about Mary so today we revisit the gospel we heard on Christmas.
When I traveled in Morocco with a small group, we were privileged to visit several Bedouin families. They are nomads and live in tents near or in the Sahara desert. I still remember one particular family group. There were several married couples and a good number of children. A very young mother was nursing a recent born infant. As I sat in their tent, I thought of Mary.
I think it is only by situating Mary in the “ordinary” and the real that I can make any practical sense out of this feast. Mary was a very young mother. Her life was typical of how every young mother in her village lived. “Ordinary” meant her days were filled with changing and washing diapers, preparing daily meals, and probably hauling water from the village well. It meant she did what was needed to make life better for the people around her.
The “ordinary” is the same for us. It is getting out of bed in the morning, preparing breakfast, listening to and caring about other people. It is trying to make life more comfortable, more livable, more pleasant, happy and peaceful for them. The Semitic words for “peace” — “shalom” and “salaam,” express our efforts to fill the “ordinary” with “wholeness of life and good relationships with all.”
A Sufi mystic expressed his understanding of “shalom” in this poem which I have abbreviated and edited:
“A man was having great visions of God
and asked if these wondrous dreams are true?
In response I said, they are if they make you become more human,
more kind to every creature and plant you know.”
The nativity narratives in Luke’s gospel conclude with the implication of a new beginning. “When Mary and Joseph had finished everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.” January marks a new beginning us as a nation.
Our future is unknown. It will be we, more than any single elected official, who will promote the common good of all and shape our future. Mutual trust, peace, nuclear disarmament, economic equality all are possible if we choose to promote them. President Obama understood this when he said: “Our job as citizens and as decent humans beings [Christians] is to constantly affirm, lift up and fight for treating people with kindness, respect and understanding.”
Recently a friend sent this email message to me:
“To touch someone with kindness is to change someone forever. Heavy?
That’s nothing. Because for everyone you touch, you also reach everyone they will ever know, and everyone they will ever know, and everyone they will ever know. And so, for the rest of all time, your kindness will be felt, in waves that will spread, long after you move on.”