Sunday, January 01, 2017

Peekaboo!


Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God

Picture: cc Liana_Kyle

My dear friends, have you ever witnessed parents comforting a crying baby? Consoling an infant in distress? As you know, they sometimes do it by playing a game called peekaboo! Perhaps you have played it before. What you do is turn towards the baby and use both of your hands to cover your face. You then suddenly remove your hands from your face and say peekaboo! Actually, it doesn’t really matter what you say. The point is to allow the baby to see a familiar and friendly face quickly appearing and disappearing in front of it. For some reason, babies enjoy being teased in this way. Provided, of course, that the conditions are right. The experience makes them laugh. It fills them with joy and delight.

Don’t you find it remarkable? That a simple game like this should have such power to make a baby so happy. And what’s perhaps more amazing is that the baby’s happiness doesn’t come only from seeing the grownup’s face. Otherwise it would be enough just to keep staring at the baby to make it laugh. But doing that is probably just as likely to make it cry even more. No, the baby’s delight comes from experiencing mommy or daddy’s face first being hidden and then suddenly revealed. It’s the curious combination of hiddenness and revelation that brings joy.

Why? I’m not sure. Perhaps it’s because, even though mommy or daddy’s face may be briefly hidden from it, the baby is still somehow able to sense its parent’s loving presence. The face may be hidden, but the love can still be felt. And that unseen presence is confirmed every time the face is uncovered. Giving the baby an exquisite experience of joy and delight.

Peekaboo! A simple game with the power to bring joy and delight through the covering and uncovering of a loved one’s face. Now, it may sound strange, my dear friends, but don’t you think that this is very much like what we celebrate at Christmas? A power that we are invited to ponder particularly today, on the solemn feast of Mary, the Holy Mother of God?

The first reading gives us a helpful introduction, by telling us how God bestows a special power on the priestly family of Aaron. It is the power to call down God’s blessing on the people of Israel. A blessing that is described as the uncovering of God’s face. It’s as though, through the blessing of the priest, God promises to bring joy to the people by playing with them a game of peekaboo! By revealing God’s face to them. A face that so often remains hidden. Hidden perhaps by the trials that the people may face from time to time. And yet, even in the midst of these trials, the people are invited to keep trusting in God’s loving presence. And, with the help of the priest, to keep praying for God’s blessing. Then God promises to uncover God’s face to them again. To quickly come to their rescue when they are in danger. Speedily bringing them peace in time of trouble.

It is probably no accident that this reading is chosen for us today. For we Christians believe that God’s promise to uncover God’s face finds its ultimate fulfilment at Christmas. A time when we ponder more deeply the birth of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. The visible image of the invisible God. The firstborn of all creation. And the power to call down this awesome blessing is bestowed first on Mary, the Holy Mother of God. By graciously accepting God’s invitation to conceive and to bear a child, Mary helps to uncover God’s face to us all.

Even so, the gospel reading for today draws our attention to something more profoundly mysterious. At this point in the story, the baby Jesus has actually already been born. And yet, God’s face continues to require uncovering. For, as we all know well, at the birth of Jesus, many people are not able to recognise him. They are too preoccupied with their daily routine. Too caught up in business as usual. Too engrossed in the cares and concerns of life. So that the Master of the Universe can find nowhere else to be born than in a place used for keeping farm animals. The King of Creation has to be laid on a bed of straw. The glory of the only begotten Son of God is at once graciously revealed and also painfully hidden from the eyes of an unsuspecting world.

So that, quite mysteriously, even though Jesus has already been born, the gospel speaks to us of how God’s face continues to require uncovering. And to whom is this power given? This power to reveal God’s face? This power to call down God’s blessing? It’s given not just to humble Mary. But also to lowly shepherds. Who, we’re told, when they saw the child, repeated what the angels had told them about him. And everyone who heard it was astonished at what they had to say. By faithfully believing and joyously repeating what the angels had told them, the shepherds help to uncover God’s face to their world. In their own unique way, they conceive and give birth to God’s Son anew. Bringing joy and delight to all who would believe their story.

And it’s important for us to realise that this awesome power of uncovering God’s face, of calling down God’s blessing, is bestowed not just on the shepherds. But also on us. On you and on me. Mary’s adopted children. Members of her Son’s Body. The same people of whom the second reading speaks, when it says that God sent his Son, born of a woman… to enable us to be adopted as sons… And how do we know this? How can we be sure that we are indeed adopted daughters and sons of God? We know it through an interior experience: The proof… is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts: the Spirit that cries, ‘Abba, Father’ .

The same Spirit who made Mary the Mother of God. Giving her the power to conceive and to give birth to Christ in the world. The power of this same Spirit is given also to us. To you and to me. The power to keep doing, in our own lives, what we find Mary and the shepherds doing in the gospel. Uncovering God’s face to a world in distress. And how do we exercise of this power? By following Mary’s example. In the midst of considerable hardship. Surrounded as she is not by the familiar comforts of home, but by the startling and unsanitary company of ox and ass. Quite remarkably, Mary is able to keep pondering the faithful love of God. Allowing it to fill her with joy and delight. And she does this not just for her own enjoyment. But also so that she can keep uncovering to others what often remains so painfully hidden from them. Hidden as much by their own sinfulness as by the trials that they have to face. The glorious divine presence. The faithful and friendly face of God.

It is this awesome power, this precious privilege, that we ponder and celebrate today. The power and the privilege to uncover God’s face to a world in distress. A world so desperately in need of experiencing the peace of God’s Presence… The light of God’s Truth… And the warmth of God’s Love…

Sisters and brothers, in this joyful season of Christmas. As we continue to allow the Baby in the Manger to help us ponder God’s presence among us. How are we being called to help God play peekaboo with the rest of our unsuspecting world today?

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