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Live Christmas nativity scene in an old barn - Reenactment play with authentic costumes.  The baby is a (property released) doll.

Mary, Mother of God – January 1st

What is your word of the year? Or, if there is a word that summarizes this year and perhaps might be a guide for the next, what would it be?

Every year, the Miriam Webster and the Oxford English dictionaries give us their “word of the year.” Miriam Webster gave us “Surreal” as their word to describe this past year. The Oxford English Dictionary folks gave us “Post truth”. Those words are meant to both sum up the past year and to give us insight into the coming one. What does it mean to live in a post-truth, surreal world? Apparently we’re about to find out.

All that got me to thinking about what my word of the year might be.

It was the two separate instances of terrorists driving trucks, first through a crowd of people along a beach in France, and then again through a marketplace in Germany that began my ruminations. Throw in the wild card of president-elect Donald Trump and some of his pre-election rants about the environment and the denial of man-made influencers to climate change; add to that the ongoing aging of my nearly 92 year old mother and her frequent falls despite the best efforts of the nursing home staff – and I had my words. They are the flip sides of the same coin – FRAGILE and PRECIOUS.

When life can be snuffed out in the midst of people going about their ordinary activities – along a beach and in a marketplace; when we are enjoying 60 degree weather in December; when a slip out of bed or a fall trying to do things that she needs help to do, but won’t ask because she is stubborn could have fatal consequences, I have come to realize how fragile this vase of being is that you and I use to walk around this world. And, realizing that I have no guarantee about life but this moment and this day, it all becomes so precious, so sacred, so worth contemplating and reflecting upon. Those are my words for the year – fragile and precious.

The image the church holds up for us in today’s gospel is that of Mary who ponders and treasures and reflects. Mary who gets all lost in wonder and grace, reflecting on the message of the shepherds and everything about him. The VISUAL image of that scripture passage on this first Sunday of the civil year – [gesture to the nativity scene] is of a mother holding a newborn child, a father hovering nearby. It is the image of parents cradling and staring and nurturing and loving the infant Jesus, holding him gently in their arms.

It is what we all do, isn’t it, when we hold an infant? We are aware how fragile this new life is, how it needs to be protected and nurtured and respected and treated as the precious treasure it is.

What would it be for us to carry that image – whether the verbal ones of “fragile” and “precious”, or the visual one of Mary and Joseph cradling the child –around in our hearts and lives this new year? Could we treat each day with that same tender love, that same pondering and reflecting and trusting that we see in Mary and Joseph?

In your prayer this week, I invite you to do just that – bring this past and upcoming year, with great love to the manger scene – either here or the one that adorns your homes.
• What is fragile in your world that needs extra care, attention, love? An aging parent like my mom? Some unexpected health issues or news? A world that is fraught with suicide bombers and countries with less than stable leaders? An environment that needs protection as much as an infant child does?
• What is precious for you that you wait to celebrate? A family baptism or sacrament or wedding? A milestone birthday? Your relationship to your spouse? Your kids? Your parents?

There are lots of images we can use to begin a new year, whether they are verbal like “Surreal”, “Post Truth”, “fragile” and “precious”; or whether they are visual ones – like Mary pondering and reflecting on these things in her heart as she cradles her child. As we begin this calendar year of grace – What words or images will guide you? How will you let God bless you and keep you and let his face shine upon you and bring you peace this year?

A happy and blessed new year to you all…

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