I have listened to this gospel reading countless times. It is simple and easy to remember. And it is read in churches that are usually quiet, since many of the New Year revelers are still asleep after a long night of celebration. I like that. My life is busy enough and any bit of quiet and calm is welcomed without hesitation. The appointed reading of the Luke gospel closes as follows:
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
This pithy statement comes at the end of Old and New Testament readings with talk of holy mountains, thundering voices from the heavens, grand appointments to apostleship and singing angels. We are now left with some mundane things: a common Jewish practice, a common Jewish name, a common family affair.
A deeper, practical significance of the text never dawned on to me until this year. I had kept the Christmastide decidedly low-key. No big travel plans, no huge expenses, no big feasts or meals to attend and no elaborate decorations. At this time of year when some very firm resolutions tend to be on the minds and lips of many, I found it a most happy opportunity to sit in peace and ponder.
It turns out my thoughts needed some major reorganization. Some needed to be tossed out, others needed to be sharpened and still others needed to steep a bit more in a brew of reason and heart to produce something of worth later on.
Barbara Mahany, author of Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door encourages us to “live sacramentally; lift even the most ordinary moments into holiness. Weave the liturgical into the everyday.” Mary, precious and highly favored as she is, I think, would agree. And so, when she and her husband Joseph have to comply with a steadfast Jewish tradition, there are no bells and smells. There are more likely cries and screams, and efforts to keep a little boy as steady as possible during a most painful procedure. But Mary “treasured them all and pondered them in her heart”
My Christmastide was filled with conversations – long as well as short—with a variety of people. Connecting, reconnecting, and deepening. Armed with a bag of scrumptious cookies one of my (many) cousins had baked I sat on porches, on the side of streets and in messy homes with all kinds of people. Someone celebrating a birthday, a chat with someone who’s had a rough year and a candid sit-down with an old friend whose religious life seems to be in turmoil.
It may seem like it was burdensome, but it was intensely liberating. With no pressure and rush to fill up my space with accoutrements of the season, I used my time to fill up the space of others; and found, quite unexpectedly, the adornments of the season in self-giving, in scaling back on expenses and food to have a feast of relationships and thoughts. Mahany explains: “[…] find that holy poetry in life, […] realize that it’s right here in the words our children whisper to us as we’re tucking them in, in what we see outside our kitchen door,”
So, there I was in Mass during the Feast of the Circumcision of the Lord; in the sanctuary of a quaint dimly lit building, pondering the things I had experienced in a short season. I made no great resolutions, just a commitment to sifting joy and peace out of simple events. One ordinary day at a time.