Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21
We begin today the new year we call 2020 and traditionally we have added “A.D.” after the numerical identifier. When in 1963 I visited the Pergamon museum in what was then East Berlin, it struck me that all ancient numerical dates were followed by “vuZ” (vor unserer Zeitrechnung, “before our way of counting time”). The suffix was politically correct in a professedly atheistic state, but it did not change the fact that “our way of counting time” was determined by a very specific event, by what Paul in today’s second reading refers to as “the fullness of time”. Whether we attempt to be politically correct by using “vuZ” or today “CE” (common era), the number still points to that event.
Although there is nothing that would mark January 1st as an astronomically new phase, as would have been the case if the year started at the winter solstice, our conventionally singling out this day as the beginning of a new year offers us a twofold opportunity to benefit from its occurrence. First an opportunity to look back on the year just completed, in order to gain faith perspective on what transpired in our lives during that time span: to thank God for our good experiences of the past year and also to recognize mistakes and to pray for help in learning from them (as long as our mistakes are not a repetition of the same one, they are not wasted). But also an opportunity to look ahead in faith projection with a sense of hope, not with the wishful pseudo-hope that painful things will not happen to us, but with the assured trust that, even if they do happen, God will be with us to give us strength to keep on journeying through those dark-valley experiences.
In celebrating today the Maternity of Mary, the gospel reading tells us that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart...” without necessarily understanding them, a statement echoed later after Simeon’s prophecy [Lk. 2:33] and after the child is found in the temple “busy in my Father’s house” [Lk. 2:50]. It was this repeated pondering without understanding that prepared her to stand at the foot of the cross without understanding —how could a mother understand that?—, yet fully trusting. I believe that in her pondering Mary was searching in her heart for meaning, for how developments might fit in her rapport to God, rather than searching in her mind for understanding, for an explanation of why developments took place. Openness to God’s ways and to God’s presence in our lives will not necessarily lead us to understanding, but it should gradually lead us to not needing to understand as a pre-condition for trusting.
By Luiz Rodriguez