This homily, based on Luke 2:16-21, is for New Year’s Day and the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God.
Today, New Year’s Day, there is one line that comes to mind. And I love saying it: “The best is yet to come!”
Yet it’s not always something easy to say–and to believe!
Not when things aren’t quite right. And especially not when the way the world is turning out isn’t quite to our liking–or the way people behave is, to say the least, bewildering–or to tell it like it is, disheartening.
But today, the first day of the new year, that’s the mantra we’re invited to say to ourselves: “The best is yet to come!” Today the Church also remembers Mary: It’s her Solemnity as the Mother of God, and today’s Gospel provides us with a slice from her life, a picture-perfect scene, where she is depicted cradling her newborn infant, surrounded by shepherds bearing good news. It is not difficult to imagine Mary looking into her heart as she treasures that precious moment and saying to herself and to her child, “The best is yet to come.”
It is a lovely and peaceful scene–but a fragile and temporary one. As we know, not much later, an angel will show up in one of Joseph’s dreams, bearing bad news. And Mary will find herself stealing away in the night, heart pounding, baby wrapped in her arms. Together with her husband Joseph, she will be on the run–away from the wrath of a despot–much like thousands of refugees today fleeing from violence and pried away from their homes.
I wonder: That night as they flee to a foreign land, uncertain of the future, is Mary still able to say, “The best is yet to come”?
As I was wrestling with the question, a friend, Martin, quite out of the blue, shares a 19th-century painting with me, describing it as one of his favorites. It’s called “Rest on the Flight into Egypt” by Luc Olivier Merson.
It portrays the Holy Family taking a respite from their travels. It is dark, and Joseph is sprawled exhausted in the desert sand. Mary lies in the bosom of a Sphinx, that powerful but benevolent mythical creature. The Baby Jesus sleeps next to her heart, the child’s halo lighting up both their faces–as if to say: “Yes, even in the darkest, most uncertain night, there will be light. And we can–and we should–still say, ‘The best is yet to come!'”
I think today isn’t about insisting on a naive and escapist brand of optimism about the world. The Mother of God teaches us what true optimism is and how it is obtained. Even in our darkest, most turbulent hours, if we look into our own hearts and recognize the light of Jesus there, we can still say–and believe–that indeed the best is yet to come.
If we say our New Year mantra prayerfully, we will recognize that it is, more than anything else, a promise that God makes to us this first day of the new year. For it is He who cradles us in His powerful and benevolent bosom.
For this New Year, let’s take God’s word for it. A blessed New Year to all!