Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God
Recognizing the Face at the Door
Recognizing the Face at the Door
Readings: Nm 6:22-27; Ps. Ps 67:2-3, 5, 6, 8; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 2:16-21
Picture: cc purplemattfish
Dear sisters and brothers, the story is told of a college professor who was a world-famous expert in his field of study. On one occasion, he was invited to give a speech at an important conference in a foreign country. Many people were looking forward to the event. Unfortunately, no one at the conference had ever seen him before. And the professor had a habit of dressing very casually. So, when he showed up at the door in a crumpled short-sleeved shirt, some old pants, and a pair of flip-flops, with his hair uncombed and his face unshaven, quite naturally, the people at the entrance asked to see his invitation. And when he said that he had left it at home, they refused to let him enter. Perhaps they thought that he was some crazy homeless person trying to get at the free food that was being provided for the reception. I don’t know what happened after that. But if there is a moral to this story, it’s probably this. To have a successful conference, it’s important not just to invite the right speaker. You also have to be able to recognize him.
Invitation and recognition: sisters and brothers, aren’t these also two of the main ingredients in our readings today? Notice how the first reading provides us with a blessing. Not just any blessing, but a very special prayer that Moses learns from no one else but God himself. By using this prayer, the people can actually invite God to show his face to them, and God promises that he will accept their invitation, that he will look upon them kindly and give them peace. And not only do our readings begin with an invitation, notice also how the gospel ends with the naming of the child of Mary. He is given the name Jesus, which, as you know, means God-saves. That he is given this name is a sign of recognition. It tells us that when God finally accepts his people’s invitation to show his face to them, Mary, the person at the door, recognizes him and lets him in. But not everyone does. As you know, Jesus had to be born in a stable because there was no room for him in the hotels and motels of his day. And even though king Herod suspects that the child is a king, instead of welcoming him, he wants to have him killed. On that first Christmas, when God finally did accept the invitation to show his face, not everyone was able to recognize and welcome him. And perhaps we should not be too quick to blame people for their failure. Just as few people might expect a famous professor to be dressed like a homeless person, even fewer expected God to show up as a helpless baby.
Invitation and recognition: sisters and brothers, aren’t these also two of the main ingredients that we need so much, even as we stand at the door of a new year? Many of us have come here this morning – when others might still be recovering from the celebrations of last night – to ask God for a blessing. We are inviting God to let his face shine on us in the year 2010. But, as the people at the conference found out, an invitation is only helpful if it is also accompanied by recognition. And recognition is not an easy thing to achieve. After all, do we really know what the face of God looks like? After having invited God to come among us, will we be able to recognize and welcome him when he really does show his face? Will we be able to recognize him, for example, if he shows up in the frightening face of a foreigner who might need our help, or when he chooses to wear the clothes of weakness and disease?
And yet, as difficult as it is to recognize the many different faces of God, it is not impossible. For, as the second reading tells us, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’ And it is this same Spirit that enabled Mary and Elizabeth, and others like them, to recognize the face of God when at last he came. But first we need to pay attention to this Spirit. Like Mary, we need to learn to look closely at the events in our lives, reflecting upon them and pondering them in our hearts. And on this New Year’s Day, we might even like to take some time to look back on the year that is now past, to consider how God might have been showing his face to us there.
A couple of days ago, I heard someone tell a story of a woman who invited her family and friends to a big party at her house. She was very excited about it. She bought fresh lobsters and spent a whole day preparing and cooking them. And when the lobsters were finally ready, because there were so many of them, and because she wanted to surprise her guests, she put them in plastic bags and left them in the kitchen. Unfortunately, her son mistook those bags for garbage, and threw them all out. Another tragic result of misrecognition.
Sisters and brothers, even as we continue to invite God to bless us in the year ahead, how might we better recognize him when he shows up?
I wish you all a joyous and peaceful new year.