Summary: We all know that there were parties last evening, some that lasted well into the morning hours. But I venture to say that these parties were not celebrations of religious faith, such as the ones implied by today’s Scriptures.
Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
Today’s Scriptures are so brief that if our minds are not focused, we might not remember any of them. I’ve wondered if that was an act of mercy on the part of those who back in the 1960's put together the three-year cycle of readings, and saw New Year's Day in the light of the way some folks act on New Years Eve. Maybe they figured they ought to figure in the sleepiness and worse of some of the Catholic people–even clergy–the morning after.
Nonetheless, these three scriptural gems are excellent ways to begin a new year of living as Christians. First, the blessing Moses gave to the people. Why? Because it is the Lord, the one true God, who blesses, who lets His face shine on us, especially through the sacraments, and who is the source of true peace on this World Day of Peace and every other day of the year. So this is the blessing that seems to inspire our psalm today, and inspires us to be glad and sing for joy as we begin this year.
Next, St. Paul teaches the unruly communities in Galatia, and us, how to live in peace. Those people were troubled by Judaizing Christians, people from Judea who said that since Jesus and the earliest Christians were originally Jews, everybody in the Church had to obey the Jewish law, especially circumcision for the men and avoiding certain foods for everyone, as well as the Ten Commandments. So Paul laid down the law of Christ for them. Yes, Jesus was born a Jew and was circumcised, as were all the apostles. But He was also God, the true God, the Son of God, so that when He gave himself up as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, He could win for us who would believe and be baptized into Him a new status. Instead of slaves of God, we were now children of God, and heirs to all that Christ has won for the world. We know this because of the Holy Spirit that fills our hearts and allows us to call God not just “Father,” but “Abba, Daddy.”
My oldest grandson spent lots of time with us in his earliest years, and one of my fondest memories is of him when I’d come home in the evening from work. As I opened the door to the garage, I’d often hear him come running to me, yelling “Papa, papa,” his name for me. I think that sums up the relationship that God the Father wants for all of us, to be so close to Him in our earthly life that we can shout “Daddy” when we embrace the Blessed Trinity in heaven.
And this last scriptural jewel from St. Luke tells us the story of poor shepherds, aroused from sleep by a choir of angels, meeting the Holy Family in their rude accommodations, perhaps the very stable those shepherds often used. They shared their story of divine encounter with Mary and Joseph, and Mary remembered and pondered and certainly shared the stories with Luke as he researched his Gospel. The shepherds just kept “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” And then, on the eighth day, Mary and Joseph called the local Jewish community together, the people of Bethlehem, the house of bread, to celebrate the naming of their firstborn son, Jeshua, or Jesus, as they permitted the local mohel to incise the “brit milah,” the covenant of circumcision, that tied Jesus to the covenant with Abraham.
And then, of course, they had a party. We all know that there were parties last evening, some that lasted well into the morning hours. But I venture to say that these parties were not celebrations of religious faith, such as the ones implied by today’s Scriptures. They were probably fueled more by distilled spirits than by the Holy Spirit. But Christians need to party, and, yes, adult beverages can be part of them, in moderation. Jesus Himself is a model of celebration. Both Matthew and Luke tell us that the hypocrite Pharisees applied a double standard to John the Baptist and Jesus: “John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon’; 19 the Son of man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” So Jesus celebrated, and even drank wine, but always in moderation.
St. Paul gives us hints of how to celebrate in several of his letters. He advised moderation, probably to all his churches, but especially in his epistles to Thessolonika, Galatia, and his two protégé bishops, Titus and Timothy. He even wrote that to Rome before his visit. He summed it all up in his late letter to Ephesus: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.” So in our festive gatherings, let’s be moved by the Spirit to share our lives, especially our tales of God’s mercy to us and His ability to call others to faith. And do everything, even parties, in the name and honor of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.