Fr Noel's Homilies

Buzzword - New Beginnings
The theme of today's reading is that when Jesus came into the world, the human condition was given the opportunity to be transformed. The first reading from Numbers records an ancient blessing; the second reading from St. Paul to the Galatians was written to correct a false teaching that the law of circumcision still remained; namely, that only people who had been circumcised could become followers of Christ.  Redemption was for everyone, not only the Chosen People.

And yet, by contrast, Luke, a Gentile, in the gospel  emphasises that Joseph and Mary were subject to the Law and that Jesus was also a child of the Law. This was to emphasise that in Jesus would be found the fulfilment of the prophecies and the expectations of the Jewish people. In Christ there was not only fulfilment of old expectations, but also the promise of new beginnings.

Point 1: We are all familiar with the tradition of New Year resolutions - made in haste, frequently, and just as frequently broken. To-day, the Church also seeks to focus our attention on new beginnings. The writers of the gospel stories of the birth of Christ make it very clear with their rich use of creation symbols that here we are dealing with a new creation force at work in the world. With Christ, people have been given the opportunity for new beginnings, a renewal, a fresh start. As with all new ventures, two factors appear - opportunity and fear. There is opportunity to succeed, and there is fear of failure.

Point 2: Looking at the familiar story of Christ's birth and the associated events, we can identify three different reactions by different groups. Firstly, there is the reaction of the general public; we are told that everyone who heard the shepherds' strange story was astonished. But that is all we are told. There is no indication that their "hearing" led them to "believe". It does not appear that they made any attempt to make contact. They simply "wondered" and let it go at that. A fairly familiar reaction can be identified in today's society.

Then, there were the shepherds. They responded to to the command of the angels to "go and find the child". They found everything as they had been told; then they returned to their fields, not to be heard of again. Probably by the time Jesus became a public figure, they had all died or were too old to care. All in all, it would appear that they did not grasp fully the significance of the events that they had witnessed. Again, a familiar reaction.

In between the general public who simply heard and wondered, and the shepherds who heard and familiarised themselves and then disappeared, there is the reaction of Mary. She heard and wondered, but, we are told, "she treasured all these things in her heart". Though unable to understand fully what was being asked of her, she said "yes"; and from then onwards she laid herself open to God's plans with all its demands for new beginnings.

This decision was not taken without fear and anxiety. Her question to the angel "how can this happen?" reveals her concern. But her grounding in the scriptures and the prophetic writings concerning the Messiah made her aware of the opportunities being offered to the world; this sense of opportunity overcame her sense of fear and uncertainty, and her "Let it be done" has echoed down through the centuries ever since.

Conclusion: It is not coincidence, but deliberate design, that the Church, in recent years, has turned January 1st into the Feast of Mary, Mother of God. The Feast is a very ancient one previously celebrated on 11th October.  It recognises the "new beginnings" that took place in religious thinking when Mary uttered her famous words of acceptance -" Be it done unto me according to Your word". With those words, she became the patron of "New Beginnings". The presence of Mary at centre stage on New Year's Day is a signal to all Christians to be confident, hopeful and happy that the same opportunities for fulfilled living are still being offered. For me the best opening image available today is that of the Madonna - Mary holding the child in her arms, the beginning of new life in the world with all the hope and confidence outweighing the uncertainty and anxiety that marks the beginning of every new life. To quote from our first reading tonight -"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". Then, the New Year will truly be a Happy New Year.