My blessing is the blessing of peace.
Our first reading today came from the Book of Numbers. After wandering in the Sinai Desert for more than 39 years, the followers of Moses were completely demoralized. They were saying to each other, “We are a worthless bunch of nomads. We have no power. The other tribes push us around whenever they want to.”
When Moses overheard what they were saying, he reported it to God and God said, “Please be patient because things are going to change. The 40 years are almost over. Soon I will bless these people. I will say to them, ‘You are my people. You are a holy people. In my eyes you rank higher than the other nations. You will help me to implement my plan of salvation. You are my chosen people and as you become more and more holy I will send you into the world to bring my holiness to your neighbors. You will show other people how they can have great dignity and how they can share in my holiness. I will bless you and send you forth to bring my blessing to the other nations.’”
Then Moses said, “Lord, what is your blessing? What is the blessing that you keep talking about?” And Lord said to him, “My blessing is the blessing of peace. I will send you forth to be peacemakers……. To bring peace to all the tribes and nations.”
This calling from God was a great honor for the Chosen People. Sometimes they found it hard to believe; but for the most part they cooperated with God’s plan and brought God’s blessings to the world in they were living.
Many centuries later God said, “I think it is time to take the next step in my plan of salvation.” My people are making progress; but they are not as holy as they should be.
Sometimes they give in to sinful temptations and that holds them back from becoming the holy people that they are called to be. I will send my Son to set them free from the power of sin. I will send my Son to help them to see that they are a priestly people, a royal people, a holy people.”
The Apostles’ Creed tells us what happened next: “The Son of God came down from heaven. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and was born of the Virgin Mary.”
Mary of Nazareth became the Mother of God and everyone was asking, “How can that be? How can a human being become the Mother of God? The angel Gabriel had the answer. Gabriel began the Annunciation with these words: “Hail Mary, full of grace.” Mary is able to be the Mother of God because she is filled with grace. God has given her the grace she needs for this special vocation.
Just as the grace of God made it possible for a tiny group of nomads to become the Chosen People, the primary peacemakers on this earth, so the grace of God makes it possible for a peasant girl to become the Mother of God.
Today’s gospel says that Mary is amazed by what is taking place. She is filled with wonder and she ponders all these things in her heart. She does not fully understand what is happening and that is why she keeps thinking about it. And her meditation on these events leads her to give all the credit to God. In her Magnificat Prayer she praises God for lifting up the lowly and setting them in high places.
Of course, Mary could have rejected the grace that God was giving her. Just as the Hebrew people could have rejected the grace that God was giving them. Every human being has free will. When God gives you grace, your liberty is not taken away. Mary cooperated with God’s grace and the net result is that God’s plan of salvation was able to advance another step.
The final step was the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Jesus was able to make that ultimate sacrifice because God’s grace was helping him to do so. What happened on the cross echoes what the angel said to Mary: “With God’s help, all things are possible.”
We turn now to ourselves and our situation today. The story of salvation is far from over.
A big question remains: Will we cooperate with God’s plan? Will we say Yes to God’s grace? Will we become the leading peacemakers in the world today? Will we follow in the path of the Chosen People and Mary and Jesus?
We are free to cooperate with God’s grace - as they did. But we are also free to reject God’s grace.
As we begin the New Year Pope Francis is calling us to continue in our role of being the leading peacemakers in today’s world. This is the 54th year of the World Day of Prayer for Peace. In his message for the World Day of Prayer for Peace, Pope Francis quoted Vietnamese Cardinal Nguyen van Than. Cardinal Nguyen created eight beatitudes for those who work for peace, I will read these beatitudes with the understanding that they apply to each of us because God has called us to be leaders for peace.
Blessed are those who have a deep understanding of their calling to serve the cause of peace.
Blessed are those who personally exemplify credibility.
Blessed are those who work for the common good and not their own personal interests.
Blessed are those who remain consistent.
Blessed are those who work for unity.
Blessed are those who work to accomplish radical change so that poverty and racism will be no more.
Blessed are those who are skilled at listening.
Blessed are those who serve without fear.
I will close with these thoughts. God gave Mary the grace that she needed to be the mother of our savior. And God gave Jesus the grace he needed to carry the cross. And God is giving us the grace that we need to be the leading peacemakers in our world today.