Many things are being celebrated today – most loudly New Year. But in this liturgy many other things as well.
It’s the octave day of Christmas, the 8th day. And the 8th day after a feast is both a repeat and a rounding-off, a final solemn chord.
It’s the day the boy Jesus was circumcised and given his name, as the Gospel mentions. Today, the name of Jesus – “God saves” – became public property, as it were, entered circulation. Today, this Jesus became a member of God’s chosen people, a child of the covenant, and bound to life as a Jew. ‘God sent his Son, born of a woman, born a subject of the Law’, says St Paul. ‘Born of a woman’, at Christmas; ‘a subject of the Law’, today. It’s the beginning of his obedience. It’s a first involuntary loss of the Saviour’s blood, looking forward to his voluntary shedding of blood on the Cross. And his circumcision prefigures that ‘circumcision of Christ’ (Col 2:11), which is baptism.
But most of all, today, it’s the feast of Jesus’ Mother, the solemnity of Mary, the holy Mother of God. What better rounding-off could there be! And not by chance does it fall on New Year’s Day.
As we know, our year is really made of several years. There’s a school year, a financial year and so on, each with its own beginning. What begins today is the calendar year. And the Church too has a year, her liturgical year – already begun a month ago with Advent. Today a new year is born, but Christ has been born first. It’s a small detail, but a symbol of something big. ‘Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you’, God says to one of the prophets, ‘before you came to birth I consecrated you’ (Jer 1:5). ‘Before the world was made, says St Paul, he chose us, chose us in Christ’ (Eph 1:4). Before time, before our own life, before ‘the weariness, the fever and the fret’, before all our own joys and sorrows, God is. His will, his love, his thought, for each and all of us – his blessing on each of us, the shining of his face – our predestination to be members of Christ. All of this pre-exists us, just as, at the level of sign and symbol, Christmas precedes New Year. And what does such a view of things do to time? What does our life then look like? Doesn’t it become a kind of womb, a kind of mother? Our life, long or short, and every part of it, and this year too, becomes a place where Christ can be born. What’s a “good year”? One when Christ becomes more real to us, when his identity and our identity, his life and our life, become more entwined, more one. When there’s more of Christ to be found in us.
How good, what a blessing, that Jesus’ mother should be ours as well! God the Father gave her to Jesus, put her at the well-spring of his human life. And on the Cross the Son gave her to us. And so we pray, in today’s Collect, ‘that we may experience [her] intercession’, her motherhood. Mary makes Jesus real.
And here’s another thought. The Church’s year begins in Advent – that is, the cycle of the feasts of the Lord begins. But if we look at our Missals, we see that the celebrations of the saints follow the calendar year, month by month, from January to December, beginning today. It’s another small detail that’s a sign of something bigger. God does not just pre-date us. He makes himself our contemporary. He walks with us. He doesn’t splat us with himself, doesn’t overwhelm us with divinity. He enters into our time. He accompanies our lives. He does so, usually, through others – through those we live with, to whom we’re linked. He does so through the saints, who have made the same journey as we have, and are celebrated over the year, strung out along the road of history. And here on 1st Janaury, heading the line, is Mary, our sister, going before us and beside us on the pilgrimage of faith. The incarnation is not an imposition. It’s a presence, a friendship, a companionship. It is Christ and his mother and the saints and all our fellow-pilgrims.
How beautifully God works! Think of Mary again. God made her the mother of her Son, the Mother of God, as we profess. But he didn’t take away her virginity. She remained what she was and became something more. She was virgin and mother all at once. Only God can do this. And it’s a sign of the courtesy and chivalry of his way with us. The Father ‘didn’t diminish her integrity, but consecrated it’, says a prayer. ‘Grace doesn’t take nature away but perfects it’, say the theologians. Two parallel mysteries. God keeps us as we are and changes us into himself, all at once. Only God can do this.
And so on the 8th day of Christmas, at the beginning of the calendar year, here is this woman. Here is Mary. May we “find” her like the shepherds. May we, like her, ponder God’s ways in our hearts. May we ‘experience [her] intercession’ – each of us, this parish, this diocese, the Church, the world. And may this New Year be a womb from which Christ is born, be a Mary to us.