NUMBERS 6:22-27 | GALATIANS 44-7 | LUKE 2:16-21
The short gospel passage we’re reading on this Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, is the conclusion of Luke’s nativity narrative. Its five short sentences are a treasury of insight and teaching. As we begin our reflection on the passage we must keep in mind that Luke isn’t simply reporting events. He’s writing a narrative containing his insights into the person of Jesus, and Jesus’ role in the Christian community.
In the dead of night, angels appeared in the light of God’s glory to shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks and announced: “Today, in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
Overwhelmed and excited by the message, they went in search of the sign. It was just as the angels described, an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. They saw, too, Mary and Joseph. The shepherds told them, and everyone else around, what the angel had told them. “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” The shepherds returned home telling everyone what they had seen and heard.
The sign, an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, contains Luke’s entire gospel message. This child, wrapped in swaddling clothes, will be wrapped again in cloth – the cloth of his shroud. This child, this Messiah, is the lamb of God. His death on the cross will redeem not only his own people waiting for redemption, but all humankind, past, present and future. The Lord’s blood, shed on the cross, will be the sacrificial blood that will seal a new covenant with God, a covenant of love that can never be broken.
The Lamb of God, the Messiah and Lord, who, at his birth, was laid in a manger, will be the source of life-giving nourishment for anyone who welcomes him, and believes in him. He will break bread with them. He will tell them, “This is my body, which will be given for you.” His disciples will break the bread as he did, and they will break themselves for others in loving memory of him. They, like the shepherds, will give witness to all that they’ve seen and heard.
Mary, gazing on the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger, is Luke’s image of the Church. She is everyone who believes in him and who, throughout the ages, will hold this image in their hearts and share it with anyone who will listen. Mary is all of us who will come together to break the bread, to share it and to renew the covenant of love.
As we remember Mary today, and as we begin a new year, let’s place the image of the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying a manger deep in our hearts. This is the Good News, this is the gospel we preach. This is what we celebrate every time we gather to break the bread. As the year goes on, may each of us, in our own way, witness to this good news. May we be light for the world and a continual source of hope to all. Happy new year!