Gospel Reflection, Feast of the Holy Name
January 1, 2012
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
What an apt description of how the heavenly and the “ordinary” are woven into life! We get moments of wonder; glimpses of the awesomeness of God’s love, majesty and intimacy with us. Perhaps it is in a stunning sunset or in the midst of worship, in the embrace of a child or through glorious music, in a moment of forgiveness and renewed relationship. We may not hear the song of angels, but God touches us, unbidden. Sometimes we remain unaware, but sometimes those touches lift us out of ourselves for a breathless instant. Thank God for that, as we would be incapable of surviving the intensity of such wonder for long, much as we might wish for it never to end. But it does end, and we are left to respond, as the shepherds were, to the gift we have been given. The shepherds’ response was to go and see, and to tell Mary and Joseph and the others who were there what they had experienced. By doing so, they affirmed to Mary and Joseph that their experiences and hopes were valid. It was a tender gift from God, as we can come to question the reality of even the most awesome experiences in the face of daily living. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and the unnamed others they told formed the first community around Jesus; supporting each other in living into the wonder they had known.
Mary’s inner response was equally appropriate. She didn’t leap to great conclusions about what she must do next or try to persuade everyone else that she had the answers. She never claimed for herself the titles and honors many want to shower on her. Rather, in the midst of recovering from childbirth, nursing, changing and giving all the care that a new baby needs, loving and caring for her husband and weaving her new family together, she continued quietly to think prayerfully about all that had happened, all she had heard and experienced. That pondering must have strengthened her considerably as they fled from Herod’s murderous anger and as they returned home following Herod’s death. Over the years she listened as she worked, listened as she cradled her first born and the ones who came after him, listened as she and Joseph grew in their love for each other and coped together with the daily needs of a growing family in an occupied country.
Mary and Joseph also responded by bringing Jesus into way of their faith; incorporating him into the life of the Jewish community through the rites that defined them and, as he grew, helping him to understand the implications of those rites. They lived faithfully, teaching him the history of their people, the traditions of reverent Jewish living and the praise and worship of God. As with the shepherds, as with Mary and Joseph, we can share our lives and experiences to strengthen each other. We can live prayerfully, thoughtfully, openly with God and each other. We can grow in relationship to God and each other through the grace of the rites, worship, traditions and richness of the church in which we are privileged to be rooted. Glory to God in the highest; and on earth, peace to us all whom God loves.