January 1, 2016
St. Joseph Basilica
10, 9, 8, 7, ... How many times did we see that repeated on the news last night? Once an hour, as each time zone of the planet welcomed the new year, the moment was preceded by this countdown. It's fascinating. The attention of everyone is riveted, the time is filled with anticipation, and all are united in the common waiting for the arrival of a moment in time.
Consider this, and hear again these words from Paul's letter to the Galatians: "When the fullness of time had come..." St. Paul is announcing the happening in time of a long-awaited event, something for which all of human history had been counting down not just for seconds but for centuries. "When the fullness of time had come..." When God determined that the moment was right, he fulfilled that longing, that expectation: God sent his Son, born of a woman.
Last night when the awaited moment finally arrived there were great displays of fireworks, sometimes wonderful orchestral music, and then? The displays lasted only minutes before turning to smoke that was quickly blown away. Music eventually died out. Then, a rush to beat the crowds, to get into the cars and get home. In other words, a return to the ordinary, but unchanged by the experience.
The announcement to shepherds of the birth of Jesus was accompanied by a kind of heavenly fireworks, if you will, the angelic visitation and songs of the heavenly hosts, yet how different was their response! Today's Gospel tells us they went running to see for themselves. They spent time in the presence of the newborn Christ. Only then did they return to their fields. Yes, they went back to the ordinary, but they themselves were changed. They returned, we are told, glorifying and praising God.
"God sent his Son, born of a woman." Such an astounding proclamation is arresting, to say the least! It rivets the attention. After all, it is saying that God has become human, one of us! What can that mean? The example of the shepherds encourages us to hurry to understand the meaning, while Mary, who pondered all that was said about her Son, teaches us to linger over it, to think deeply about it, until we get what this is all about. If we do this, and allow God to show us what this all means, then our ordinary will never be ordinary again.
"In the fullness of time, God sent his Son born of a woman." To ponder this is to see in the birth of Jesus the true meaning of time. At the New Year we mark the passing of time. Yet time is not just a succession of seconds, moments and hours. With the birth of Jesus, time becomes the earthly "space" inhabited by the eternal God! Time is history, yes, but God makes it salvation history, the succession of events in which God is at work to save his people from sin. In time God meets us, loves us, forgives us, transforms us, and draws us to himself so that we might live with him forever. St. Paul says it best: God sent his Son to redeem us and adopt us as his children. If we ponder this, if by grace we get what this is all about, then life, and the time in which life unfolds, will never be the same for us.
"God sent his Son, born of a woman." Over the centuries the Church has indeed pondered this with the grace of the Holy Spirit. As the Church reflected upon the great mysteries revealed by Jesus, she has turned her gaze also to the woman who gave birth to him, the woman we know from the Gospels to be Mary of Nazareth.
From the beginning Christians accepted Mary as the Church's greatest treasure. She was the mother of our Lord and the perfect disciple. Yet there is more, so much more, to say about her. Since Jesus is both God and man, divine and human, the Church realized that Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also rightly called Mother of God! It is under that title that the Church honors her today. The more we linger with that mystery and ponder it, the more we realize that she is our mother, too. From the Cross Jesus said to the disciple John, and through him to the world, "Behold your mother." The Church is the mystical body of Christ on earth, so she who is mother of Christ and mother of God is also mother of the Church, our mother. This is why Christians do not hesitate to go to her in prayer. She watches over us with ineffable maternal affection, she protects us with the help of her prayers, and she teaches us how to follow her Son.
On this New Year's Day we are conscious of one lesson in particular we need to learn from Mary. Today is the World Day of Peace. Longing for peace unites humanity more deeply than a countdown to fireworks. This is a deep longing in every human heart, especially in the face of the atrocities and brutalities that we have witnessed in the past year. It has united humanity across the centuries, as we heard in the ancient prayer, from the Book of Numbers, that God lift up his countenance upon us and give us peace. Mary teaches us that peace can be attained by the simple yet challenging word "yes."
She said yes to God's plan as revealed by the Angel Gabriel. She said yes at the Cross as that plan reached agonizing fulfillment in the death of her Son. From early on she taught others to say yes, when for example at Cana she told the stewards: "Do whatever her tells you." This is what she says to us, too, who long for peace: Do whatever Jesus tells you to do. Of the many commandments Jesus has given us, one in particular is now coming to the fore: "Be merciful, as your Father is merciful".
2016 is declared by Pope Francis as the Jubilee of Mercy. Mary teaches us that the path to peace is to say yes to mercy. When families say yes to mercy, when communities say yes to mercy, when nations say yes to mercy; and, therefore, say no to bitterness, hatred and violence; when we say yes to our need for God's grace to make us merciful, then we will know real peace.
Last night we shared in a countdown to a new year. By the Spirit of Jesus, who is God born in time of Mary, and with the help of the prayers of the Mother of God, may that countdown be to a year of true and lasting peace.
Most Reverend Richard W. Smith
Archbishop of Edmonton
January 1, 2016