Today is the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, the oldest Marian feast in the western calendar, and the Octave Day of Christmas. Like January itself, named for the old pagan god Janus, it is a feast that looks two ways: back into the history of the Chosen People, forward into eternity. Mary herself is the hinge between the Old and New Covenants: she gives us Jesus Christ to be our Saviour, and we ourselves, by virtue of our baptism, are part of the great chain of being centred on Him. But an octave means eight days celebrated as one, with the eighth day a symbol of perfection, the point at which we go beyond time and enter eternity. So today is Christmas Day just as much as 25 December, but also our launch-pad into eternity. Most of us struggle to get our minds round the theological and liturgical implications of all this. Those with longer memories may also think of today as the Feast of the Circumcision, when Christ fulfilled the Old Law and first shed His blood as giver of the New, adding a further layer of mystery and meaning to the mix. It seems almost bathetic to remark that our secular year now begins today, and for many, the rituals of fireworks and partying have almost eliminated the religious significance of 1 January.
Personally, I have no difficulty with partying or fireworks (though I must admit the monastery is not remarkable for either), but I do find the emptying of religious significance rather trying. On 1 January we have the habit of co-ordinating our diaries, both the digital and paper-and-ink varieties. It has long been our habit to say a short prayer asking God to bless and guide our use of time. Very often we live as though we had all the time in the world and none of it mattered very much; then something happens, and we suddenly realise that time is not limitless. Regret can be a very crippling emotion. Much better to live each moment as generously as we can, not dwelling on our shortcomings but offering all to God, confident of his ability to do so much more than we could ever think or imagine. Who but God would have chosen that obscure young girl in Nazareth to be the Mother of his Son; but, as the Easter Exsultet reminds us, what would life have been to us had Christ not come among us as our redeemer? An event in time, that leads us beyond time to eternity, through the medium of flesh and blood.
None of us knows what this year may hold; but we can be quite certain that we ourselves will be held throughout. ‘The eternal God is your dwelling-place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’ May 2015 be a truly blessed time for us all.