Nm 6:22-27; Ps 67:2-3,5,6,8; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21
Today completes the Octave of Christmas; this is the liturgical way of holding the note of a new song of praise making one day last for eight days. Such is the power of the liturgy—it’s not recommended that you try to do this at home. So profound is the mystery of the Nativity that for one week and a day we have been arrested in our tracks, and our breath has been taken away! Psalm 67 enables us to hear the song that echoes still within our hearts made new by the Word Made Flesh dwelling among us. Indeed, he has let his face shine upon us like the healing rays of the sun. This was no mere glimpse of the glory of the LORD. His face has upon us shown, and his pity and blessing have come to us. Now we long to make his ways known upon earth; among all the nations we desire to speak the Word, who is Jesus and Emmanuel. This sovereign King of Kings rules with love. His love cannot be denied or taken away. It can be rejected and misused. This rule of love is what every nation, people, and individual longs to experience. So we join with all our brothers and sisters throughout the world that he rules in equity and guides throughout history. We join to invite all peoples to praise Him so that we may be blessed and live in awe and wonder in his presence. Can there be any greater blessing as another year begins?
The Name of the LORD bears all blessing. The priests of the family of Aaron were responsible for keeping the dignity of His Name and of pronouncing that name over the people who gathered for blessing. Indeed, all the Israelites and all the children of the New Israel, the Church, come before the LORD seeking that, which only the LORD can give, His Blessing. The favor of the LORD is contained in his blessing. He gives us every blessing in the heavenly places and the greatest blessing he gives us is the gift of himself. God blesses us by a self-donation. This self-gift of God keeps us safe within his tent. We cannot be harmed when we dwell with and within the Most High. Even our suffering does not alienate us, and our burdens in Him are light. Such is the blessing of intimacy with the Living God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The LORD himself promises to look kindly upon those he blesses and give them peace. This short blessing from the priests of the House of Aaron contains such profound mystery and delightful meaning. Indeed, this mystery and meaning are revealed and fulfilled in the priesthood of Christ and of His Body, the Church. Indeed, the blessing of His Face is upon us as we enter into this celebration of the Eucharist.
Many in the Galatian Church were slaves or former slaves, but this worldly condition is not to be used by anyone to judge a brother or sister. In our contemporary church there are slaves and former slaves; we call them addicts and recovering addicts. The messy and heroic efforts of recovering addicts to stay free is an inspiration to all who have taken on the light and easy yoke of Christ our Only True Master. For those who realize that they are sons or daughters of the LORD obedience flows out of love not out of fear. We have been ransomed from a life of legalism and self-justification! We have received adoption as sons and daughters of Abba, Father. We now obey out of love; we can’t wait to do his will. We can’t wait for the next opportunity to reach out with his mercy and kindness to those who may not deserve our mercy or kindness. Such a transformation in our behavior flows from a transformed heart, and such a transformed heart is the result of our behaviors. Being sons and daughters of Abba, Father, means that we do not live enslaved by fear. We are heirs in Christ, children by adoption. Our hearts cry out with the Spirit in the language of love; we dare to pray: Abba, Father thank you for the freedom we have in the Holy Spirit, and thank you for calling us in your Son, Jesus Christ to become transformed by becoming more and more like him who was perfectly obedient, even unto death on the cross, out of love and love alone.
Each year we celebrate the mystery of the Birth of Our Savior we come in haste to behold the familiar scene of Jesus, an infant in the animal feed bin, and Joseph, a confused and awestruck father of this new family, and Mary, still reflecting on all these events in her heart. Perhaps this year we will, as if for the first time, be as wise as the enfant King and find the nourishment our Master has placed before us. Perhaps this year we will, as if for the first time, be utterly amazed that the Lord of Heaven and Earth would condescend to take up residence among a people poor and needy from birth. Perhaps this year we will, as if for the first time, reflect upon this Nativity scene and hold it in our hearts with a tender love and simple contemplation. Then we will be able to return, like the Shepherds; we will be able to return to our daily lives in the new year and find ourselves glorifying and praising God for all we have heard and seen in the Liturgy of these eight days made one, the Christmas Octave. As we return to the ordinary flow of time in our place of loving service, home, work, school, computer, wherever, the time for our circumcision of heart will be upon us, a time for pruning of heart, a time for new identity as a member of the Body of Christ. Indeed, may we be named by the angel even as we have been conceived in the womb of these days of wonder and celebration, and may our name announce before we are born into any new and dangerous situation, that the LORD has come to save his people!