Christians have always connected the traditional New Year’s feast to a motive of their faith. Before the liturgical reform of Vatican Council II Jesus’ circumcision was celebrated. It took place, according to Luke, eight days after his birth (Lk 2:21). Then this day was dedicated to Mary, Mother of God. From 1968, January 1 became the “world day of peace” promulgated by Pope Paul VI. The readings reflect a variety of themes: the blessing to begin well the new year (first reading); Mary, model of every mother and disciple (gospel); peace (first reading and the gospel); the divine sonship (second reading); amazement before God’s love (gospel); the name with which God wishes to be identified and invoked (first reading and the gospel).
To bless and blessing are terms that occur often in the Bible. They could be found in almost every page (552 times in the Old Testament, 65 times in the New Testament). From the beginning God blesses his creatures: the living beings that they be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:22), the man and the woman that they rule over all creation (Gen 1:28) and the Sabbath, sign of rest and of joy without end (Gen 2:3).
We need to feel blessed by God and by the brethren. Cursing distances, separates, indicates the refusal, while blessing instead approaches, strengthens the solidarity, infuses trust and hope. “May the Lord bless you and protect you”: these are the first words that the liturgy utters on this day. May they be impressed in our hearts and that we repeat them to friends and enemies throughout the year.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Teach us, O Lord, to bless who insults us, to bear with who persecutes us, to confront those who slander us.”
The sons of Eli, the priest of the Lord at Shiloh, were depraved and did not pay any attention to the calls of the father (1 S 2:12). One day a man of God appeared to Eli who told him: “In your household no one will live to a ripe old age” (1 S 2:32). It was not the promise that his descendants would be freed from the hassles related to the care of elderly and sick people, but the announcement of a terrible calamity. Educators of new generations, the guardians of the sacred traditions, the leaders the transmission of the faith would be forever missed. His grandchildren would never have experienced the commotion of the psalmist who exclaimed, “With our ears, O God, we have heard: our ancestors have declared to us the works you did in their days” (Ps 44:1-2).
In Israel there was the commandment “Honor your father and mother”, however, the formation of new generations was often marked by tension and conflict. There were spoiled, arrogant and judicious young people (1 K 12:8). There were wise old men who watched, with serenity and trust, beyond the narrow horizons of their time. There were also dull old people who fought for a nostalgic return to the past, trying in every way to curb the impulses toward the future.
The prophets indicate that generational reconciliation is the sign of the advent of the Messianic era. The Old Testament closes with the announcement of the return of Elijah who “will reconcile parents with their children and children with their parents” (Mal 3:24). The New Testament opens with the words of the angel to Zechariah: “Elizabeth will bear you a son; he will be great in the eyes of the Lord; he will reconcile fathers and children” (Lk 1:13-17).
In families where there is no elderly person, life can, at times, be easier, but it is certainly the poorest of humanity.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Even when my strength lessens, my heart will remain young.”
The darkness covered the abyss, when “God said, Let there be light” (Gen 1:2-3).
Light is the first word that God speaks in the Bible. That word marks the beginning of creation (Gen 1:3). And since “God saw that the light was good” (Gen 1:4), man has never stopped loving her, to search for her, while he was afraid and shies away from the darkness. Darkness recalls death and from it one wants to get out.
He who is born comes to the light, who dies goes toward the land of deepest night (Job 10:21). “God—Job says—uncovers the deepest recesses and brings the deep darkness into light” (Job 12:22). In the biblical conception darkness are only a temporary condition of light, they are destined to become light.
God is light and permeates his every creature with light: in the poetic image of Isaiah the dew becomes dew of light (Is 26:19); even the clouds, yet so dark and menacing, are laden with light that shines forth, suddenly, when the lightning flashes (Job 37:15).
We celebrate the Christmas liturgy during the night to reproduce, perhaps meaningfully, the darkness won by the word of the Creator, the darkness of the human condition illumined by the coming of the Savior.
To internalize the message, we repeat: “On those who live in darkness, the light of a Child shines.”
From the beginning—the Bible tells us—mankind’s history is a series of sins. In Genesis chapter 6 the sacred author, with a bold anthropomorphism, says: “The Lord saw how great was the wickedness of man on earth and that evil was always the only thought of his heart. The Lord regretted having created man on the earth and his heart grieved” (Gn 6:5-6).
In the fullness of time, God has intervened to bring about justice. The responsorial psalm proposed to us by the liturgy says to reveal his justice to the eyes of the people.
We know of only one justice, the forensic one, the remunerative justice administered by judges in courts where punishments proportionate to the crime committed are applied. This is not God’s justice. “He is God and not man” (Hos 11:9). God does not respond to sin with retaliation and revenge but by giving the greatest proof of his love, giving to the world his Son.
Some theology of the past recklessly applied to God our justice and presented him as an executioner. It resulted into a Christianity dispenser of fear, not announcer of the Kingdom which is “justice, peace and joy” (Rom 14:17).
At Christmas, God reveals the immensity of His unconditional love. This is his justice. All people are invited to contemplate with wonder and let themselves be free from fear because “there is no fear in love. Perfect love drives away fear, for fear has to do with punishment: those who fear do not know perfect love” (1 Jn 4:18).
To internalize the message, we repeat: “Oh Lord, how different from mine is your righteousness.”