Luke 2: 16–21
Today’s gospel text suffers somewhat from being removed from its biblical context. We are told that the shepherds “went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger.” It is helpful to note that they did this only because they had received a vision of angels who told them, “This will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2: 12). The shepherds are thus taken out of their workaday worlds and asked to see their lives in a new and wonderful way.
The insistence on the image of an “infant wrapped in swaddling clothes,” that is, wrapped in warm flannel, alerts us to a profound symbolism here, for the flannel bands stand for God’s loving care which is shown to us in the coming of Jesus as our Savior. In a very real sense, we can say that God has wrapped the whole world in secure and loving bands by sending his beloved Son to us as an embodiment of endless loving kindness.
Since this feast is the feast of “Mary Mother of God,” it is important to note also that “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” We are not told what “all these things” might be, but we can rest assured that they embraced the whole wonderful experience of bearing a child who is already destined to change the course of human history in ways that will be revealed only later—ways that will involve both painful self-sacrifice and glorious victory.
The beginning of a new year provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the special gift of time. We recall the events of the previous year and express our gratitude for all the good things that have happened, all the while being aware that there have also been sad and painful and perhaps sinful realities. But most of all we celebrate the promise of a new set of months and we try to be hopeful in spite of threats of war and recession and just growing older.
Today’s gospel has a special message for us as we hang up the new calendar with mixed feelings. The fresh new year is in some ways like the infant Jesus “wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Both the new year and the new child seem so vulnerable, but the almighty power of God is hidden in the new year, just as it is in the tiny infant. God is fully prepared to wrap our fragile lives and hopes in the warm blanket of his ever-present and constant love. With such assurance, we can face the future with generous hope and with light hearts. For we too need to realize that the angels who spoke to the shepherds are speaking to us also when they say, “This will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Come, let us adore him.
Demetrius R. Dumm, O.S.B.