Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Mary, Mother of God

Years ago, my wife and I decided, just once, to spend New Year’s Eve in Times Square. We weren’t brave enough to stand outside in the cold with noisemakers and funny hats. Instead, we got a package at the Marriott, and had dinner in a ballroom overlooking the square, and at midnight, the whole place went crazy. The confetti, the balloons, the blizzard of paper cascading outside our window, the hundreds of thousands of screaming people outside – shivering and celebrating and having the time of their lives. There is nothing quite like it.

The next morning, we walked to the subway to come back to Queens. It was eerie. Times Square on the morning after New Year’s Eve is a very different place – almost a ghost town – but I was impressed at how incredibly clean it was. The crews had worked through the night and aside from a lot of paper, it was surprisingly orderly. Almost as if nothing had happened the night before. That is how we try to see our life at new year’s – almost as if nothing had happened before. We’re starting over. Let the street sweepers come in and let’s begin again. 

There’s a song by Natasha Bedingfield that captures that spirit. It’s called “Unwritten.” In part, it says:

“Drench yourself in words unspoken. 
Live your life with arms wide open. 
Today is where your book begins 
The rest is still unwritten.” 

Today is where our book begins. The rest is still unwritten.

New Year’s Day is when nothing can go wrong. This is the moment when everything is possible. Every page of the calendar is blank. Every diet is successful. Every closet can be organized. Every checkbook can be balanced. Here and now we begin anew. 

How appropriate, then, that the Church has dedicated this particular moment in time to Our Lady, as we mark the feast of Mary the Mother of God. 

In Mary, we see the ultimate vessel of possibility. In her, the world was given a new start. A clean slate. Mary’s own purity represents God’s giving us all a second chance. 

Mary is often called the New Eve. And the world, in these early hours of this new year, is our New Eden. 

On this day, we can fight any temptation. At least until it comes time for dessert. But for now, something wonderful is beginning. You can see it in the reading we just heard, too. In this gospel, the great event that Mary helped fulfill – the nativity, the birth of the savior – is over. But the shepherds have arrived at the stable to see for themselves what the angel told them. And when they have seen it, they cannot contain themselves. 

As Luke explains it: “They made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.” 

We hear a lot these days about the New Evangelization. Right here is the original version, because with this moment, the shepherds have become the very FIRST evangelists — the first to spread the news about Jesus Christ. 

This is the start of the great work that would transform the world – work that would touch billions of lives, including every one in this church.

But here, with the shepherds, is where it all began.

Mary, meantime, absorbs this, and makes of it a kind of prayer – keeping all these things, and in Luke’s beautiful words, “reflecting on them in her heart.” 

It’s customary on this day to draw up resolutions – to make promises to ourselves and to others that probably won’t last until February, if they even make it to the end of this week. We resolve to lose weight or stop smoking or exercise. What it really means is that we resolve to improve the profit margins of Jenny Craig or Lucille Roberts.

But this January first, I would challenge you to make a different kind of resolution. Resolve to learn something from the woman we honor today. Resolve to dwell in possibility. Resolve to see every day, not just this one, as a fresh beginning. Resolve to welcome every blank page, every new start, with trust that God will see you through it – and then reflect on it in your heart. Just like Mary did.

Today we celebrate Mary the Mother of God – Mary the mother of our salvation. Mary, the one who gave birth to a new beginning. Resolve to embrace what she represents. Resolve to count every day – and to make every day count. Because “Today is where your book begins. The rest is still unwritten.”

How will you fill the pages of your book?

H/T The Deacon's Bench