This icon of Mary and the Christ Child was written by Melkite Sister Souraya Herro for the Mary, Mother of Persecuted Christians shrine located in the Church of Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory in central London. CNS photo/courtesy Father Benedict Kiely

God's Word on Sunday: ‘Let us not rebel in the wilderness’

  • December 30, 2022

Mary, the Holy Mother of God (Year A) Jan. 1 (Numbers 6:22-27; Psalm 67; Galatians 4:4-7; Luke 2:16-21)

The exodus from Egypt began well. In just a few words, God revealed His intentions and high hopes for Israel. The blessing that Aaron was to give to the people called for the care and protection of God as well as God’s graciousness and peace. 

Who could ask for more? All God asked in return was trust and obedience, to which the people eagerly — perhaps too eagerly — gave immediate assent. 

These were the blessings that God was prepared to grant to the Israelites, and they represented the generous and compassionate nature of God. Unfortunately, the people were not up to the challenge. Their journey through the wilderness was a tragic and destructive series of doubts, betrayals, complaining and rebellion against God. At several points in the journey, they actually wanted to return to Egypt and resume their status as slaves. 

Finally, God was pushed too far. The spies that were sent ahead into the Promised Land returned and began to tell terrifying stories about giants, causing the people to panic and again talk about returning to Egypt. God turned them around and headed them into the wilderness again, vowing that they would not enter until the entire generation born in slavery had died off. 

And it came to pass. 

But all along, God desperately desired to protect, bless and provide for them. The people would not allow it. 

This is the story of humanity — God wants to do so much for us, but all too often people will not acquiesce, and they rebel from God’s authority. The inevitable consequences come, and people get angry with God. We just have to remember — God always wills good for us, but we have to let it happen.

God could have saved humanity by a command of the divine will, without ever touching the Earth. But He entered our humanity and our human experience through the incarnation of His Son. The careful and patient preparations were accomplished according to the Law and the traditions of Israel. The purpose was to prepare us for adoption as sons and daughters of God. 

The Spirit that God sends into our hearts enables us to cry, “Abba” — Father — and it is a cry of recognition as we actually experience our adopted status as children of God. God is drawing us home and it requires patience, obedience and the willingness to admit our mistakes along the way. It only works when we do things God’s way — let us not rebel in the wilderness.

Such wonderful news needs to be proclaimed, and at the birth of Jesus, the angelic host insisted that they were proclaiming news of great joy for all. Shepherds were the recipients of the revelation. Shepherds were far down on the social scale and were viewed by many as shifty riffraff, and yet it was to them that the angels appeared — this was far from coincidental. Those in political and religious authority were bypassed. By granting the appearance and the revelation to ordinary folks, the likelihood that the news would be spread unfiltered and unhindered was increased. 

There was great rejoicing when the shepherds reached the birthplace of Jesus, and they related the entire story to those present. Mary treasured or preserved these things in her heart and drew continual strength from them. She “pondered” or reflected continually on all that had happened and had been spoken. At this point, she did not understand everything. Much of what was taking place was a mystery to her. But unlike most people, she did not demand answers and was willing to continue the forward journey with faith as her guide. More would be revealed or would become clearer as time went by. For the moment, she was content that something wonderful had occurred — just as the archangel Gabriel had told her. 

The time came for the circumcision and naming and Jesus continued the human path that He had chosen. Naming a child was an important event for the name revealed the nature and purpose of the individual. Jesus was well-named, for His name means “God saves!” 

To treasure the words and deeds of God in our hearts and to reflect on them constantly gives spiritual richness and depth to our lives and enables us to follow the path of Jesus.