It happens every year as far back as I can remember, and maybe as far back as you can remember yourselves. When the old year makes way for the new, we say “Good riddance.” And we sing “Auld Lang Syne” and drink champagne and spin noisemakers and light up the night sky with fireworks. We may have done some of those things last night, or maybe you just went to bed early like you’ve done the last decade or so, as I did. But we like to think that we’ve put all of it squarely behind us. “See ya later 2020.” It makes sense that we want to pin blame on someone or something for everything that did not go well or anything we didn’t particularly like. So 2020 gets to be the scapegoat for all things ugly and disagreeable these last 12 months. It helps that we can picture a bent old man with a long white beard, dressed in a toga, scythe in hand shuffling his way off stage. It provides us a focus for all the contempt and resentment we’ve been holding in. We wouldn’t mind one bit if 2020 had to face a firing squad or sit in the electric chair. We might even be honored to pull the trigger or flip the switch.
Then we picture the new year 2021, an adorable innocent child on whose tender shoulders we now lay the burden of all our frustrations, disappointments, unresolved problems, unrealistic hopes, and unattainable dreams for the next 12 months. And at this same time next year we’ll be back in the same spot, exhausted and impatient to be rid of the old year not too long ago we welcomed with joyful song and triumphant dance and expensive champagne and dazzling fireworks. Time on the other hand, represented quite vividly by these two iconic characters, just comes and goes heedless of our acceptance or acknowledgement. You and I, we stay right where we are, most of us anyway. And yet we are not the same people. We are transformed. It might help to discover whether the transformation was something we brought about or if it was something that happened to us. It might provide helpful hints of what lies ahead.
Historians are not unanimous on the accuracy of the account of the birth of Jesus in the gospel of Luke. What year exactly it took place or even what time of the year is not known for certain. But none of that is relevant anyway for the purposes of our consideration on this first day of the new year. The images we warmly associate with Christmas that typically include falling snow, nipping frost, twinkling lights, and jingling bells don’t come to us from scripture. So today we return to the original story, of Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger, and angels proclaiming to shepherds joyful news of the birth of a new king. It’s a lot to wrap our heads around, which makes sense this time of year considering the last 12 months alone. “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” I’m sure her heart was filled with a mix of joy and wonder and doubt and fear. These last few years I’ve heard exactly this from a number of young mothers on social media as they share their most intimate reflections with the faceless audience of the twitterverse and the blogosphere. It’s social media after all, so it’s literally available to anyone and everyone. And I am always curious to know what was going on in Joseph’s head. At least we know he did choose to stay.
It doesn’t even have to be an actual new year for Mary and Joseph. In fact, we don’t even have the same calendar. But the birth of a child always marks a new chapter along the journey. From this point on, all is new. Nothing is as it has always been. Now there are new things to be mindful of, new things to complicate what would have been simpler under different, previous circumstances. Some theologians and religious authors have speculated that the young virgin mother must have agonized over the implications of her Son’s divine nature, what the future held in store for him, and what else God would expect of her. I tend to think Mary had more down-to-earth, less dramatic everyday concerns. But that says more about me than it says about her.
Young parents are prone to exaggerate everyday familiar risks giving them far greater and graver consequences. What resources do we need to start putting away for the immediate future? Will we have enough? Are we saving enough? What if we aren’t? Who do we turn to? Whose parents do we disappoint first? Will my day job guarantee I’ll be around to see my child grow up? Will I keep pace with all the activities, the adventures, and the stresses of raising a child? Is the house adequately child-proofed? Is the stroller safe? Is the car seat safe? Is the baby monitor set up properly? Is the nanny-cam accessible from work? How do we handle food allergies and temper tantrums and profanity? When is too much TV harmful? And video games? And how do we defend against the digital platform they will use to ignore us and talk about us behind our backs … down the road? Will we be ready for preschool? Grad school? That first sleep-over? That first date? That first serious relationship? Will we even want a second child? I’m not a parent so I’m just guessing. But I’m sure I barely scratched the surface.
Mary reflected on all these things in her heart. It’s what we do when life gives us lemons, way before we decide to make lemonade or lemon merengue. Or looking at it from a different angle, we pause long enough to take in as much information as we can. We look for willing partners to support us and lend a hand when we ask or need it. We breathe deep and slow. We listen for the Holy Spirit’s voice, we reach out for his hand, and we walk bravely into the storm. Perhaps we will get soaked or be tossed about in the wind and rain. Perhaps we will sail through unharmed. Or we will walk above the waves. Sometimes our fears will overwhelm us. Sometimes we will lead the charge and vanquish the foe. Either way we will discover beauty and joy and self-knowledge. And we will gain wisdom and courage and resolve to face many other storms, many other fears, and many other foes. And time will come and go. And hopefully we will choose to stay and face each new day with determination and purpose and daring. There’s no point in blaming the storm. It doesn’t really care whether or not we make it.
Hindsight is always 20/20. But we could have never imagined the challenging year we had to face. So every so often we pause to check our attitude and choose to welcome the opportunity for a full life and offer hope to those who come after us. So we either intentionally soar in the wind or find ourselves cowering in the shadows. And although the journey might take us through the valley of darkness, sometimes more times than we would like, we might discover that life, every minute of it, is both grace and blessing. And the darkness can be persuasive that we have neither God’s favor nor reason to hope. But the Light came among us to conquer the darkness of our world. And with the virgin’s Child comes God’s gracious favor and every reason to hope.
Rolo B Castillo © 2021