We can begin our reflection today by pondering the first lines of the Psalm: “May God bless us in his mercy. May God have pity on us and bless us; may he let his face shine upon us.” These words, which were written hundreds of years before Christ’s birth, continue down through the years to give voice to the longing in our hearts for God to bless us. In the face of so much hardship, suffering, pain, and uncertainty, we pray for God to look upon us with mercy and have pity on us. In the first reading, the Lord instructs Moses to teach the Levites to bless the people with this same prayer: “The LORD bless you and keep you! The LORD let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!”
We long to experience the presence of God with us. We yearn for him to heal us, forgive us, and restore us. We want him to teach us the right way to live, so that we may live in peace with him and with one another. And what we celebrated with great joy eight days ago – and which we continue to celebrate throughout this Christmas season – is that God has heard our prayer in a most amazing and unexpected way! He has actually made his face “shine upon us” physically, in the flesh, in the Person of Jesus Christ. We have actually been able to see the face of God, to be physically touched and healed by him, and to be taught directly by the words of his own mouth! Like the shepherds in the Gospel, and like all who heard their account, we should be “amazed” to learn of such astounding mercy which has been shown to us in Christ!
How did this wonderful reality of “God with us,” Emmanuel, come about? From the beginning of his creation, God always had a plan to bless his people. He gave our first parents every good thing, including his friendship. When they sinned and broke their relationship with him, he immediately promised that he would bring about a restoration to an even more intimate relationship with him. He always wills to bless his people and be present to us. But what God wants with us is a relationship of love, and love can never be forced. It must be freely given by both sides for it to reach its fullness.
It is for this reason that God always looks to us for permission to work in our lives. This in itself is astonishing and worthy of pondering. The One Who created the universe and sustains it in being asks our permission to do his work in our lives, and he awaits our response. This is one of the key truths which we reflect on in today’s great feast. God willed to take on flesh in the world, precisely to answer the prayer of humanity that he come to us and save us. But before he accomplished the work of the Incarnation, he asked Mary for her cooperation. He did not proceed until she had freely given her “yes.”
Mary said “yes” to God, and he took on flesh in the world. Thus, she became “the Mother of God,” the title with which we honor her today. God became present in the world – to heal, save, forgive, restore and teach in the Person of Jesus Christ, who is God – in the flesh and blood of Mary.
We who long to have God be more present in the world and in our lives, sometimes ask, “Where are you, Lord?” And we can sense God answering us, “I am right here, always with you, always ready to do my work of blessing and restoring, only waiting for you to give me your ‘yes,’ to allow me to take on flesh and blood in you, so that I can be physically present in the world through you, so that I can touch and heal and love my people through you.”
St. Paul assures us in the second reading that “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” to make us his sons and daughters. However, this does not happen automatically. We must accept God’s gracious gift of adoption. We must cry out “Abba, Father!”, joyfully giving our full assent to God’s work in us. We must follow the example of the shepherds, who returned, “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” And, like Mary, we need to continually keep all of God’s words and actions in our hearts, pondering them daily.
In this way, as we strive to always give God our joyful “yes,” he can answer our prayers and the prayers of so many, for him to be more present in the world. In this way, as we follow the example of Mary, we too can become “mothers of God” by allowing him to take on flesh and act in the world in us (cf. Mt 12:50). As we begin this new year, let us pray for the grace to make it a year of “yes” to God. Let us pray for the grace to say always with Mary, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
As I begin a new year, how will I imitate Mary’s perfect obedience to God’s call? How will I grow in my spiritual life? What prevents God from freely working in my life?
Excerpt from The Anawim Way, Volume 19, no. 1. More information about The Anawim Way may be found here.