January 1 is a day for celebration and hope. Of course, we celebrate the beginning of a new calendar year that we share world-wide. We hope for health, friendship, peace, prosperity, good fortune, love, and so on. We know that challenges will arise and losses will occur. But we look forward with hope.
After two years of global pandemic, with a new and more contagious variant of COVID-19 spreading quickly, we face another year of uncertainty and challenges. Still, we are cautiously optimistic. Vaccines have been developed. They seem to be working. Human immune systems, in those vaccinated, are going beyond just forming anti-bodies against the virus and are now awakening the T-cells that provide longer lasting protection. We know much about the virus, including preventive measures and treatments that help. We’ve come a long way.
On the religious front, we also have many things to celebrate. It’s the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. This is what we celebrate in our liturgies for January 1. Mary, a simple young Jewish woman, became the mother of the child who grew up to be the long-awaited Messiah, the one who gave himself totally to the will of God and in so doing restored the family ties between God and humans. Jesus, the Word of God, was fully human and fully divine. Mary was his mother, the woman who taught him and nurtured his relationship with their God. She and Joseph, her husband, did not understand all that was happening through them. They were ordinary people called to do something truly extraordinary. We hear in the gospel (Lk 2:16-21) that after the visit of the shepherds, Mary reflected on all the things she had seen and heard there in Bethlehem where her son was born.
At the end of the reading from St. Luke’s gospel, we hear that on the eighth day after his birth, Jesus was circumcised and given his name, “the one given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.” The circumcision of the Lord is another thing traditionally celebrated on this day. Jesus became one of God’s chosen people, a member of the Jewish community on this day. He received his name, Yeshua (in Hebrew and Aramaic), which means God saves.
As a child, Jesus grew up as a member of the Hebrew people, with all the traditions of his people. He lived under the law given to Moses and was blessed with the same words of blessing that God gave to the people through Aaron and the priests who followed him down through the centuries. “The Lord bless you and keep you!” (Num 6:22-27)
When he was grown, he was called at his baptism in the Jordan River from his career as a tradesman in Nazareth to preach the good news of the coming of the kingdom of God. As St. Paul explains (Gal 4:4-7), he was born under the law, yet he was the one who would move beyond the restrictions of the law that kept humans and God separated. He was the one whose coming set free those born under the law, ransomed them to become children of God and heirs of the kingdom. This kingdom expanded to include all peoples, because God created and loves all peoples.
The final thing we celebrate today is World Day of Peace, a day to celebrate and work towards a culture of care and tolerance for each other. As children of one heavenly Father, we are called to reach out to each other, both in our own communities and around the world. We are to see each other as members of the same family. We can have our differences of opinion and do things differently, but we are still all God’s children. We must love each other and care for each other.
Pope Francis shares his vision for the 55th annual celebration of World Day of Peace in his message: Dialogue Between Generations, Education and Work: Tools for Building Lasting Peace.
On this day of many celebrations, may we continue to receive the blessing offered by Aaron for the people of God. May the Lord’s face shine upon us. May he be gracious to us and grant us peace!
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