This morning’s Gospel reading is Luke 2:16-21:
The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.
When eight days were completed for his circumcision, he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Happy New Year to everyone! We’ve celebrated the holidays with family members from out of town, so I haven’t had much time to prepare a reflection for this week. Instead, I’ll offer a few brief thoughts about our readings today in light of the blessings of family, friends, and loved ones.
All of our readings today discuss God’s abundant blessings, for those who choose to receive them. In our first reading from Numbers, The Lord tells Moses to instruct Aaron and the priests on the way to embrace Him so His blessings will flow among the Israelites. “So they shall invoke my name upon the Israelites,” the Lord instructs, “and I will bless them.” In Psalm 67, we repeatedly ask God for His blessings using similar language, offering praise in embracing Him. We see this repeatedly throughout the Psalms and other parts of the Old Testament — people crying out to the Lord and His response of blessing to His people.
But what does it mean to receive God’s blessing? We get an answer from Christ’s birth. Jesus is conceived of the Holy Spirit and is God’s only begotten son, but in the Incarnation participates in all of the rituals in order to also be the son of Mary and Joseph. For Joseph, this is an adoption process; Joseph knows that this is the Lord’s son, but he embraces Jesus as a true father would. Joseph ensures that God’s Son is properly raised according to the Law, as we read in this Gospel and will shortly read about Jesus’ anointing in the Temple.
What we truly seek in God’s blessing is the same thing the Lord seeks: adoption. Paul explains this in his letter to the Galatians:
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then also an heir, through God.
Too often we think of God’s blessing in material terms — that we are blessed with abundance, health, peaceful familial relations, and so on. The Lord often works through these to make His blessings known, but those are only part of what His blessings mean. What we yearn to receive, and what He yearns to provide, is adoption through our own free-will choice. Christ came to give us that path to adoption, to provide God’s answer to that yearning in our hearts and the pathway to satisfy it in Him as our Father.
May the Lord’s blessing be on all of us in 2017 — so that we all may become brothers and sisters in the house of God.
The front-page image is a detail from a fresco at the church at Shepherds Field in Bethlehem, from my own private collection.
“Sunday Reflection” is a regular feature, looking at the specific readings used in today’s Mass in Catholic parishes around the world. The reflection represents only my own point of view, intended to help prepare myself for the Lord’s day and perhaps spark a meaningful discussion. Previous Sunday Reflections from the main page can be found here. For previous Green Room entries, click here.