We begin the year with a blessing, and whether it is a coincidence from the lectionary, or something planned, what better day is there to receive a blessing than the first day of the New Year?
The Lord Bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!
So we start the year not only with a blessing, but with something of an invitation to look back on the past year and consider where our blessings have been. Perhaps we consider the blessing of being with family at Christmastime. We might also consider other blessings. Perhaps there was a wedding last year, or maybe a new baby came into the family.
Following along with scripture we consider the blessing that is Mary’s baby. We might also be inclined to consider the theological blessing, of which St. Paul writes to the Galatians: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law…”
On this Solemnity of Mary, who we call God-bearer or the Mother of God, we consider the blessing that she received, and we might pause to bear in mind how this blessing must have seemed. A young woman, still a teenage girl, pregnant without being married, gives birth--barely indoors--and exhausted from labor she puts her baby to sleep in a feed trough because there was no other place to lay him down besides the ground strewn with straw and dung.
The first witnesses, we are told, were the shepherds. In those days there wasn’t much romance in being a shepherd. Being a shepherd probably carried something of a social stigma. Shepherds were on the bottom rung of life; they were the ones below all others. Yet God chose to reveal the glory of the angels to the poor shepherds. God chose, in the miracle of incarnation, to be born to a young teenage couple who were the talk of the town in a very negative way. God chose the poverty of a stable and a feed trough to reveal blessing.
As we move into the New Year our eyes turn to the future. I’d like it to be a year of blessing for myself and my family. I want my children to do well in school. I want a year filled with health and happiness for my wife and me. I’d like to have successes at work, and I pray for the blessing of a mild summer with plentiful rain. I have my New Year’s resolution list and a positive attitude. Still, I realize that for others the future might not seem to have much hope at all. Others are entering the year with sadness. For many there is no cause to be positive. Others are entering the year with poverty, hunger, and violence. Where is the blessing for them?
I recently read an article from a professor who works at a Christian university here in Texas. He says that he often hears from students who say they feel as if they need to work on their relationship with God. They believe they need to spend more time in prayer and reflection. He says he likes to direct them instead to work on their relationships with other people. He says that too often we get taken in by a bait and switch and go after any number of so-called “spiritual” substitutes to bring ourselves closer to God rather than doing so by working on just being a decent human being to others.
The point that I take from this is to ask myself how I can bring about blessing to those who seem to have so little of it in their lives. Really, when I consider it, I realize that it’s too big for me to do alone. I have to join with others to bring blessing into the world, but the decision to do it has to start with each one of us personally. We have to act ourselves; we have to focus, and we have to usher in the blessing for others. I think soon we will find ourselves joined by others or joining with them to bring about true blessing.
In our world today there are others with whom we must stand. It’s likely that we won’t have much in common with them. They’ll be different from us in many ways: maybe in language, color, religion, disability, or in their economic status. For them life has not been a blessing, but we, as Christians, as people of God, are the ones who are called to be the bringers of blessing.
Blessing involves a transformation, both within ourselves and one that we enact upon the world. To be a part of the blessing above all other blessings we go to the teenage parents, Mary and Joseph in the stable with the poor and outcast shepherds, and we stand and gaze upon the hope of the world lying in a feed trough.