On this first day of January, we celebrate three events together:
It is New Year’s Day, when traditionally – having looked back in remembrance and thanksgiving for the blessings of the old year – we open the window on the year to come in a spirit of hope in God’s providence.
In the Christian tradition, we also keep on this day, the solemn Feast of Mary, glorifying her as the Theotokos – Mother of God – faithful to the tradition of the ancient Church in Ephesus (431 AD), which solemnly proclaimed in council, what Christians had long done by popular acclamation. Today, we greet her as our Mother too, a simple woman, one of ourselves, no stranger to human suffering and joy, heartbreak and hope – one who dared to believe the promise made to her by the Angel Gabriel, would be fulfilled. St Paul, in one of the liturgical texts for the feast, reminds us of this astonishing grace given to us in Mary, in the Word made flesh. For we too are adopted as God’s children and heirs of the same promise:
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children…. (Gal. 4:4ff.).
This grace is pure gift to us, but it is a gift God intends us to share with all our sisters and brothers on this earth. So it is fitting that the Catholic Church has dedicated 1st January as a World Day of Prayer for Peace. Today, across the world, not least in the very places we have heard recited in the biblical narratives of these days – Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Ramah, Egypt, Jordan… places where violence reigns, the blood of the innocent flows, and the poor uprooted people once more flee in terror – today, Christians and people of other faiths will gather in cathedrals, churches and among ruins of cities and churches, to pray and plead for peace among the nations and for the healing of our religious divisions.
So, along with Paul’s Letter to the Galations for this Sunday, we offer a couple of contemporary poems by two women, which may reflect something of the grace of this feast of our faith, and draw us onward to live in its light, the mystery of God’s love for each and every one of the world’s children, and to embody something of God’s mothering love, as we with Mary and Jesus follow his paths of peace, wheresoever this year may lead us.
A reading from the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians 4:4-7
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.
“The Victory”, Elizabeth Jennings
Down to all that littleness, down to all that
Crying and hunger, all that tiny flesh
And flickering spirit – down the great stars fall,
Here the huge kings bow.
Here the farmer sees his fragile lambs,
Here the wise man throws his books away.
This manger is the universe’s cradle,
This singing mother has the words of truth.
Here the ox and ass and sparrow stop,
Here the hopeless man breaks into trust.
God, you have made a victory for the lost.
Give us this daily Bread, this little Host.
“Two Doors”, Moya Cannon
There are two entrances to this house
the old priest told us this morning
as he turned, bright as a bird,
to the great oak door under the rose window.
Through one door people come in,
through the other door, light comes in
and the people are the light
and the light is in the people.
Few could have wished it otherwise
yet in the cathedral’s thousand years,
so much else has come in the lower door,
borne, often by princes of church and state,
while through the rose window,
through thick dust, through spiders’ webs,
with their hoards of netted flies,
the light still enters, limpid, constant.
Coimbra, Portugal, 2010