Friday, December 30, 2011

A Year of Blessings

Solemnity of Mary Mother of God Year B
New Year’s Day

You know what they say about the Chinese … OK, its not just the straight hair … we are unrepentant story tellers. Here’s an old story that comes from my tradition. Some of you may be familiar with this.

A father and his son were poor farmers. The only prized possession they had apart from the small piece of farm land which they tilled was an old horse. One day the horse ran away.
“How terrible, what bad luck, Mr Lim” said the neighbours.
“Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” replied the wise old farmer.
Several weeks later the horse returned, bringing with him four wild mares.
“What marvellous luck, Mr Lim” said the neighbours.
“Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” replied the old man.
The son began to tame and train the wild horses, but one day he was thrown and broke his leg.
“Oh dear! What bad luck,” said the neighbours.
“Good luck, bad luck, who knows?” replied the farmer.
The next week the army came to the village and conscripted all the able bodied young men in the village. The farmer’s son was still disabled with his broken leg, so he was spared. “So … Good luck, bad luck, who knows?”

So what’s in store for this coming New Year? Good luck or bad luck? As we stand at the threshold of a new year, it is natural that many would attempt to divine their fortune for the following year. We would certainly like to ward off the misfortune that we had experienced in the past year and pray for a real break in fortune for the next. You don’t have to grab an almanac or get the latest Lillian Too’s feng shui book for 2012 in order to get your annual predictions. Today’s liturgy and readings provides us with all the projection that is necessary.

On the first day of the New Year, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God. But this feast isn’t really about Mary. It’s about Jesus. By celebrating this feast of Mary and affirming that she is Mother of God, we are also affirming that Jesus is God. Mary is not only the mother of Jesus, she is also the mother of God. Jesus is God. The baby that was born on Christmas day, the baby whom some call the Son of Mary, today we acknowledge as the true Son of God.

We may be wondering as to what significance this knowledge brings to us. The answer lies in the second reading. St. Paul writes: “When the appointed time came, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law, to redeem the subjects of the Law and to enable us to be adopted as sons.” That’s it. God’s Son became man so that we can become sons and daughters of God. Our salvation did not only take place on the cross. Our salvation begins with Christmas – when God became man. Today’s feast of Mary, Mother of God, confirms this central faith of Christians everywhere … our Saviour is not just some great human personage or enlightened soul, our Saviour is God. Christmas is the feast where we celebrate and proclaim our faith that this immortal Deity took on the flesh and mortality of a human person in order that all humanity may assume the divinity of his nature. Son of God became man in order that men may become sons of God.

Thus, if we were to wonder whether the following year will be filled with blessings or curses, we already have the answer. This is our greatest blessing – being called children of God. We often pray that God will bless us with good luck, or with riches, or with good results at our exams, or with good children, or a good bonus or win fall, or with success. But we often forget that his greatest blessing isn’t in all these things. God’s greatest blessing isn’t found in good luck or riches or in success. His greatest blessing comes in the form of our adoption as his children. We can call him “Abba Father” and he calls us his sons and daughters. This is our most precious blessing.

Mary understood the meaning of this truth – that our greatest blessing lay not in fortunes, good luck, and perfect conditions but in our new relationship with God. Today, in the gospel we read of how “Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart.” What were some of the things she treasured? Instead of having rich and powerful visitors, she was contented with the visit of poor and humble shepherds. The shepherds were not rich or powerful but their presence was far greater than the presence of any king or rich man because the shepherds could recognize the blessing of God in the baby Jesus, while others couldn’t. Any mother could have wished that they could have delivered their baby in a clean hospital or a comfortable house, but Mary was contented with the stable and the animals who shared their home with the holy family. Although rejected by men, the animals welcomed the Son of God.

How was Mary able to recognize these blessings in midst of what appears to be misfortune? Mary provides us with the example of prayerful reflection. Prayerful reflection allows us to walk by faith and not by sight. Prayerful reflection allows our vision to penetrate the darkness of misfortune in order for us to behold the face of God who continues to shine on us in both good times and bad. When we are unable to savour silent prayer, meditation and contemplation, we will find ourselves impoverished. When we recognize God’s greatest gift and blessing in the person of Jesus who made us sons and daughters of God, then we will be contented with whatever we have. If we are sons and daughters of God, then we are also his heirs. What is the inheritance that we will receive? Our inheritance is eternal life, in that which is imperishable and not in the worldly possessions that are perishable. We don’t have to wait till after death to claim it in heaven. This inheritance is already ours – Now! We are children of God, that is a treasure in itself – and we have no need for any other.

So, what’s my two cents worth of prediction for the following year? Would it be a good year or a bad year? Let me tell you without any doubt – it’s going to be a splendid year, a great year, a marvelous year – a year of blessings. A year where we can continue to be assured of our inheritance that has been won for us in Christ.

And so as we rejoice with Mary over the treasure of her son, Jesus, the Son of God, I pray that you will receive God’s every blessing, especially the blessing of being called children of God. Using the words of Moses, let me say to you:
“May the Lord bless you and keep you
May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.”

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