NEW YEAR Mary the Mother of God
Just a week ago today we were wishing one another a Merry Christmas, and today, on the Octave of Christmas, we begin a New Year with the familiar salutation of “Happy New Year.” For us Christians these two greetings and two days are not at all unrelated to each other. After all, we know that the very date that we celebrate the first of a new year, January 1, is, like the way we number our years, very much related to the birth of Jesus Christ which we celebrate on December 25. This New Year will be numbered 2017 AD, and it stands for the 2017th year of the Lord. Now lots of calendar schemes have existed from ancient times and many exist today, but our calendar is set according to the birth of Christ, and has been so determined for over 1600 years. The last great reform of this Christian calendar took place in the 16th century, when Pope Gregory XIII reformed the old Julian system, and he chose to retain the date for the New Year established by Julius Caesar as January 1. In point of fact, the 25th of December had been established as the Birth of Christ since the 4th Century and the Octave of Christmas ending on January 1 soon thereafter.
Whatever the historical accuracy of December 25 as the actual date of Christ’s birth, the date had the distinct advantage of Christianizing two days when pagan feasts had long been celebrated in the Roman Empire, December 25, and the New Year beginning on January 1. This calendar has so far survived the decline of the Church in the so-called first world, but more and more we see the designations CE and BCE replacing the older AD and BC designations, even the actual dating remains the same. I have never understood the relevance of “common’ in the common era notion, or before the common era. How much more arbitrary can one get than in referring to the “common” era? Common to what, and why not some abstraction like “general: or “ordinary”? How bland these designations seem in comparison to “Before Christ” or in the “Year of the Lord.”
In comparison to the Christian calendar, these modern secularized calendars are truly arbitrary in determining the dividing point between the BCE and the CE. They could have chosen any starting point for the Common Era and it would not have mattered. They chose the Christian starting point purely out of convenience and for no other reason. The ancient Romans had no real system of calculating the date when it came to years, and simply chose to name the years as so many calendar years during the reign of some leader. The Muslims chose 622 as their starting point simply because Mohammed fled that year from Mecca to Medina, which flight became the basis of the religious pilgrimage obligation of the Hajj. But, like the ancient pagans they have no real interest in the years prior to 622, which is AH 1 in their calendar. One does not find the notion of BAH.
The Christian Calendar, on the other hand, is established on the most concrete of foundations, the year of the Incarnate Son’s birth, which rightfully measures time in both directions, since all time before leads up to Christ, and all time after His Birth is the time of the Lord who lives on in His Church and thus remains an actor in human history. Nothing could possibly be a more fitting reason for dating all of time from a single day than the entrance into the world and into man’s history of the God Who created the world and Who redeems man and his history. It was this belief of Christians that ultimately established the calendar for the ages. The calendar itself becomes a profession faith, and the loss of this faith leaves our world poverty stricken. People can declare that this faith is no longer tenable, no longer a rational basis for our calendar, but they have nothing that can possibly come close to its power to elevate and transform the world we live in without Christ. By comparison every other thought system is trivial.
Without Christ, what is really “new” in this world including the “new” year, aside from new things? Does not all this celebration of New Year’s Day descend into banality when we remove its ancient significance? New Years is new because it’s the Octave of Christmas, the birthday of the Lord who makes all things new, beginning with persons and not things. The Eighth Day is profoundly new because it utterly transcends the perfection of the seven days of creation. Man has been recreated in Christ, and the newness in man is results from Christ having come to make him true participants in His divinity. As Pope St. Leo the Great succinctly wrote, “In Christ the fullness of deity resides in bodily form. Yours is a share of this fullness, in Him…” The Son of God became man in a stable so than man might become a son of God forever in Paradise. The New Year is but a glorious symbol of the new creation, the promise of a new world which is brought forth with that Child.
The joy of the New Year is also the joy of the Mother who brought that child to the temple according to the Law so that He might be initiated into the Covenant. For us, His birth and life are the promise of a whole new life already in this world, a life which has its origin in the cradle of Bethlehem where God entered into our world as a child of man.
And our belief in this possibility and reality of a whole new life generates yet another special theme of this New Year’s Holy day, a rational conclusion drawn from faith, that is, the theme of peace in the world for men of good will. For in Christ, and in this new life that He alone brings us, we have the promise and source of an everlasting peace on earth for those who are of good will and believe in the divine Sonship which we share with the child Jesus.
Thus, when we Christians wish Happy New Year to our friends and neighbors, what we wish them above all is this joyful peace which comes from Christ, from our faith in His Divine Person. The whole Christmas scene of the child in the manger speaks to us of peace on earth, the peace of the child asleep in that humble manger, while still guiding the whole of creation to its destiny.
And it is also the peace of the Mother who is there in the prayer of contemplation as she beholds before her the child she carried for nine months. She knows He has no human Father, but is the pure gift and miracle of the power of the Holy Spirit, and her faith. She looks upon his true humanity, which came forth from her humanity, and yet she sees with faith the Son of the Most High. She alone, among human beings, knows at this moment the Heavenly Origin of her Son, and she alone has the insight as to exactly why He is to be the Prince of Peace. For she alone knows that while He is the fruit of her womb, He is much, much more than the fruit of her womb. He is the Son of the Most High, as Gabriel revealed to her.
On the Eighth Day Mary also witnesses another event which we celebrate today, the first drops of blood spilled by her Son, and again she alone would have the depth of faith to penetrate this mystery to its depths. He would be our peace, yes, but only because He would shed the blood he had received from her, so that we might be delivered from the greatest cause of discord and loss of peace in our world, our sins. The child is the Prince of Peace, but only because He is the victim for our sins, the one who will break down the walls that separate us from God and from each other, the walls erected by the evil of our sins. The circumcision of Jesus was again a proof of his identification with our humanity, and a promise of peace, peace through the forgiveness of sins, and through the divinization of our humanity by Grace.
Today, then, we honor Mary under her most exalted title as Mother of God. It is our way of confessing once again our faith in the true mystery of Christ and Christmas, for in honoring Mary as Mother of God, we are at once professing faith in the true humanity of Jesus and in the divinity of His Person.
May the Mother of God lead you more deeply into her contemplation and adoration of this mystery of faith this coming year. Then it will be truly a happy year, and a blessing from our God.